Aliens have tried to take over our planet dozens of times in the movies already. Every time they do, it seems like they always choose major metropolitan areas and the setting is always current day. While I’m sure there are exceptions to these rules, who is to say that aliens couldn’t plot their attack a couple of hundred years ago? They’re aliens; they’re advanced; they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. And if you think you’d be scared if aliens decided to attack us today, imagine what it would have been like for a cowboy in 1837 to come face to face with one of these massive monsters. Imagine that real good and you’ve got yourself a new breed of alien movie, you’ve got COWBOYS AND ALIENS.
Director Jon Favreau tows a very fine line between these two genres to ensure that he is somehow loyal to both without sacrificing much from either side. Like a good Western, it starts out quiet and lonesome. A man wakes up in the desert, bleeding from what he presumes is a gunshot in his side, with no recollection of who he is and with a bizarre metal bracelet around his left wrist unlike anything he has ever seen. As it turns out, this man is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) and he is wanted for a bevy of assorted crimes, not the least of which is the murder of his former lover (Abigail Spencer). Jake moseys into a nearby town and right before he causes too much damage, a strange light appears in the sky. The whole town looks on as if a miracle is about to take place. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve never seen an alien disaster movie before so how could they possibly know what horror was in store for them?
The concept of COWBOYS AND ALIENS is so strong and while Favreau has crafted a sturdy blend of the two film worlds, there is something inherently amiss about the combination. One genre is often subdued and subtle while the other is loud and raucous. At times, the differences are too far apart to fully come together, like it wants to take flight but its too heavy to get off the ground. The pace picks up once the story crosses from cowboy loner to invasion survivors banding together. Craig is joined by typical tough guy, Harrison Ford, who is obviously enjoying himself a great deal in the part and Olivia Wilde, who just seems like she enjoys being window dressing way too much. Regardless, along with a few other determined town folk, they set off to take on the invading army with everything they’ve got, which admittedly is not much. This is where Favreau finds the commonality that ties the genres together – the endurance of the human spirit and the need to persevere.