My wife and I saw Cowboys & Aliens at today's matinee.
It starts out good, like the best of westerns. Darkly humorous like the opening of A Fistful of Dollars. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are splendid here. I was hoping the entire movie would be like that.
Unfortunately, about half way through, the plot resolves into comic book format and the scenes after that are all stunts or the usual sci-fi tech--juvenile, gaggingly sentimental, and predictably cliched, especially the human solidarity message at the end.
Nice acting by Craig and Ford (who you like even when he's the tyrannical heavy), and some interesting camera shots in the first half of the movie. Some nice horsemanship by Harrison and Craig or by lookalike stunt doubles. Some beautiful canyon shots. Fifteen minutes in, I was enthusiastically rooting for them to pull this off. Unfortunately, they didn't.
Some understated humor, though some things scenes are funny in spite of themselves--unintentionally funny. For instance, there is the scene where they bury the preacher who has been killed by the aliens. No one wants to say a prayer over the grave. Finally the storekeeper blurts out some things in agnostic parody.
It reminded me of the similar scene in the western, Open Range, where Robert Duvall tells Kevin Costner to go ahead and say a few words to God over the grave. "I'll stay right here and listen," he says, "but I ain't talking to the Sonofabitch."
My wife and I chuckled out loud a couple of times, but I didn't hear much other laughter in this theater filled mostly with teenagers out of school. Perhaps the humor is generational. Still, the movie is better than the trailers for it would lead you to believe. It makes you think of what an excellent western Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford could make, given the right script. Olivia Wilde is angelic as Ella, the Eternal Feminine eye-candy in here. She also deserves a better script.
I must confess I was hoping for a cynical western version of Rod Serling's "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street." The movie instead is anti-cynical and says that sentimental human solidarity trumps human accountability, once aliens are involved--and it says it with a juvenile and comic book sense of reality that no one can take seriously. The satirical message would have worked much better in that format.
Don't misunderstand, I'd like it if the message involved human compassion and genuine forgiveness, but it does not. For what we have here is simply a transfer of the hated Other. At the end of Rod Serling's classic story, there is the realization that we have met the enemy, and he is us. In this story, there is simply a change of alliances. The prop department should have provided the aliens with big black hats.