Michael Moran has been to see Cowboys & Aliens for us:
With a title as ridiculous as that, Cowboys & Aliens can’t expect to be taken seriously, can it? But up there on the screen are James Bond and Indiana Jones, looking tough and just daring you to laugh.
Jon Favreau has broken away from Iron Man to direct this deliriously daft sci-fi western that hog-ties The Wild Wild West and throws it into a dry gulch.
Cowboys And Aliens is seriously silly fun that positively compels you to put your intelligence in neutral and your popcorn-chewing apparatus into high gear.
To tell you what tremendous fun this film is, I’m going to need to tell you a little bit about what happens. Don’t worry too much about potential spoilers though. The plot of Cowboys and Aliens is so giddily nonsensical that your brain will simply refuse to remember it for more than a few hours.
Favreau starts with the Cowboys part of the title. We find a mysterious stranger. We learn that he’s not to be messed with.
The mysterious stranger’s got a mysterious bracelet that anyone who’s seen the trailer or the poster knows is some sort of alien artefact. Daniel Craig – for he is the mysterious stranger – doesn’t care about that. He hits it with a rock.
Daniel Craig has lost his memory in that neat way that only people in films do. This ain’t Memento though, so having no idea who he is doesn’t stop him from Clint Eastwooding his way through the film with barely a second thought.
He’s a mysterious stranger. He does what mysterious strangers have been doing since Pale Rider. Or High Plains Drifter, if you prefer. He rides, or drifts, into town.
It’s 1875. We are in New Mexico Territory. The town, Absolution, is on the brink of extinction and only kept alive by business from unscrupulous cattle baron Colonel Dolarhyde, as played by Harrison Ford.
If you keep expecting Dolarhyde to be revealed as an unpleasantly bitey serial killer, you’re not the only one. He’s not. But he is an amoral monster who aims to get his way and doesn’t care who suffers in the process.
Dolarhyde’s son is one of those indulged ‘jerk with a rich dad’ types that exist purely to get movie heroes in trouble. And so he does.
It’s about this point that you realise the mysterious stranger’s wearing chaps. And skintight jeans. And it does look a bit preposterous. But this is James Bond we’re talking about. You wouldn’t dare laugh. In fact, for a certain niche audience Daniel Craig’s legwear may well be the highlight of the film.
So far, so western. It’s at this point that the aliens show up and come a-ridin’ into town, a-whompin’ and a-whumpin’ every livin’ thing that moves within an inch of its life. and a-generally derailin’ their own plan.
They’re here, you see, to mine a relatively common earthly substance. One that they could easily obtain without any abduction or cattle mutilation or, and I’m speculating here, crop circles.
Indeed, one character points out, when informed of the aliens’ evil plot “That’s just ridiculous”.
But it wouldn’t be much of a film if the aliens had a sensible plan. And it wouldn’t be much of a film if the townsfolk didn’t put together a posse to sort these alien varmints out.
What happens next is satisfying brain-dead fun, with enough unpredictability and grit to stop you feeling like a fool for watching it.
There’s more depth of character than you might expect from a Summer action blockbuster called Cowboys & Aliens, and nearly all of it comes from Ford. There’s more humour too, and most of that comes from Sam Rockwell.
But ultimately this is a western, and the real stars are the hats. Daniel Craig’s is a beauty.
There’s a moment in there, when Daniel Craig doesn’t have his hat on for a second. With just his waistcoat and a white shirt there’s just a hint of Han Solo about his outfit. Harrison Ford pats him on the shoulder in that scene as if handing on his action hero mantle to the younger man.
Keith Carradine’s a little underused, but you can’t have everything. With Craig, Ford and Rockwell owning every scene they’re in and with Olivia Wilde on hand to provide a little exposition there’s really not room for any other big personalities.
Don’t expect much personality from the aliens. They’re big brutal ape-lizards who have particle beam weapons and greasy X-Wing fighters but seem happiest when they’re tearing opponents apart with their bare ungulae.
And they’ve got a base that needs storming. It’ll need more than a few cowboys though. It’ll take Cowboys and Indians and Outlaws and Townsfolk and a couple of mysterious strangers to take these Aliens down.
Presumably Cowboys and Indians and Outlaws and Townsfolk and Aliens wouldn’t have fitted on the poster quite so well.
I can’t lie to you. This is a very silly film. The aliens’ plan is incoherent, Olivia Wilde’s backstory needs some serious fleshing out and everyone who gets shot survives exactly long enough to say some poignant last words.
But darn if it isn’t a whole lot of fun. Money’s tight these days and there are a lot of big Summer flicks making demands on your wallet. This one’s not an absolute must-see at the cinema, but it’s not a complete clunker either.
And it’s one of those films that would be absolutely irresistible as a DVD combined with a few frosty drinks and a fast food delivery of some kind.
As a cinema choice, it’s a maybe. As an addition to your Netflix or Sky on-demand queue, unmissable.