Cowboys & Aliens took the Western genre seriously, and there are many instances where that tonal attention pays off well.
Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) has no knowledge of who he is when he wakes up in a small American cowboy town wearing an odd mechanical bracelet. He had stolen gold from Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the richest man in town, and was now a wanted felon.
Woodrow is about to exact retribution as the town is attacked by unknown aliens. The only thing that can shield the humans is Craig’s bracelet.
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The plot is something that one might experience in a fever dream and yet we are blessed enough to have a real-life movie version of it. The idea to revive the Western genre by making it mix things up with elements that were popping off in the early 2010s was either too stupid or too genius for the public to handle.
Having an alien device mounted on an amnesiac cowboy as he wanders in a town with wanted posters of him stuck on the walls is a plot idea that feels too thought out to amass to such a flop of a result upon its release. Yes, it is cheesy, it is campy, hell it is way out of its element to begin with. But isn’t that the point?
To make the film feel like it is dealing with something alien? Is that not better rather than getting served up a predictable Western filled with classic outlaws and well-timed tumbleweeds? To put it in context, this movie got released in the same year as Apollo 18, The Darkest Hour, and Paul.
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Jon Favreau has never been one to step away from a challenge. The man who has dipped his talent into movies that had no right to be as good as they are would obviously take up such an absurd plot and turn it into a movie with a star-studded cast.
With films such as The Jungle Book, Elf, Iron Man, and Zathura under his belt, tackling Cowboys & Aliens is not something that would be quite new to him. Since the director has already had quite a handful of experience of mixing and matching genres to make them work one would assume that this film would be another banger on the spot.
The problem was not with the quality of the film, the performances, or the CGI. It was the demographic. Stereotypical crowds were still a thing during the early 2010s, after all, every Marvel fan was perfectly fine with having every movie end with the same formula of having the villain have the same abilities as the hero and end it in a giant CGI fest.
Not a lot of people were open to watching a film that seemed too experimental in nature at that time. Whereas, in today’s time, everyone is thirsty for something to break the mold from the generic plots of Netflix shows and Marvel movies.
Did You Know This About Cowboys & Aliens?
- The film’s director, Jon Favreau, was repeatedly pressured to shoot or make the movie in 3-D, but he stood his ground, insisting that Westerns should only be captured on film.
- Noah Ringer, who played Aang in The Last Airbender, the cinematic adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was disowned by both longstanding fans of the source material and the authors themselves, did not fare well with audiences. He hasn’t been in a movie since the failure of this one.
- The wanted poster for filmmaker Jon Favreau is found when the sheriff removes the poster for Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) from the wall.
- Due to schedule issues, Robert Downey Jr. withdrew from the role of Zeke Jackson (a “former Union army gunslinger”). Within a month, Downey was replaced by Daniel Craig, and the role was renamed Jake Lonergan and rewritten to be an outlaw.
- The directors credit Predator (1987) and Alien (1979) as influences on the design of the movie’s aliens.
- This is the only movie that was made by Paramount, DreamWorks, Universal, and Imagine Entertainment.
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The aliens themselves are not well-defined. They are just enormous, green monsters, like so many other aliens that have been on television in recent years. Only one of them may be considered truly unique. Otherwise, they are essentially CG creations that Jake’s gauntlet can use as cannon fodder in video games.
Overall, Cowboys & Aliens is entertaining, but its “Aliens” aren’t as satisfying or well-done as its “Cowboys.” It’s a shame Favreau couldn’t have done a traditional western because that’s the aspect of the film he clearly cares the most about.
In a season dominated by sequels and brand names, Cowboys & Aliens gives a welcome injection of originality among summer popcorn films. Simply put, it’s unfortunate that it never quite reaches its full potential.
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Cowboys & Aliens is either an unexpectedly brave and consequently retroactively fulfilling try for something new, or it is a steaming mess wrapped up in a riotously enjoyable package, depending on how one chooses to view it when their mind is off and they accept it for what it is—nothing more, nothing less.
Cowboys & Aliens, which was in development at Universal Pictures for about ten years, is based on a graphic novel of the same name and similar idea (although the movie makes considerable changes to the plot).
From the production design and shooting locations to his decision to forgo converting the film from anamorphic 35mm film to 3D, Favreau’s respect for the traditional Western and his commitment to reproducing its cinematic language are evident. Cowboys & Aliens benefits unquestionably from the cast and crew’s dedication to replicating genuine Western imagery.