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Cowboys and Aliens: Movie Review

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by Imogen Millhouse (subscribe)
I'm a cynical student living in Brisbane. Hopefully you'll find my writing amusing.
Published September 3rd 2011
Cowboys AND aliens? Seem too good to be true? Well, folks unfortunately John Favreau’s new blockbuster delivers on title and ... well, not much else.

I went into this film with the excitement of a small child who sits there mangling toys together to create a new super-breed. I wanted Woody meets Buzz – a comical juxtaposition of iconography that’s a bit of fun - but what I got was a mix between True Grit and Independence Day that didn’t really gel.

The plot follows Daniel Craig’s character, an outlaw with amnesia, and his travels through the Wild West to find the answers he so desperately seeks. Of course this is where the ‘aliens’ bit comes in. Not to give too much away but these space creatures aren’t exactly friendly and, like so many of their sci-fi predecessors, are after taking over the world. The aliens attack a local town, wreak havoc and kidnap townspeople. But Craig, who had awoken with a shiny new bracelet, realises he owns a piece of alien weaponry and brings a little equality to the intergalactic shoot ‘em up. One thing I did enjoy about this scene was just how brutal the alien attack was; excluding Craig’s ability to use a weapon he’s never fired before, there were no corny elements, just pure cold pillaging. The rest of the story see’s Craig, along with his new found friends, following the tracks of a wounded alien in the hope of rescuing the kidnapped townsfolk.

Maybe my analysis thus far has been too harsh. Granted the film never claimed it was anything more than a mash up of two different film genres in an action-packed blockbuster, but like a fool I hoped it could be so much more. My main issue was the lack of humour. Harrison Ford’s character seemed to be the comedic element I was so hungry for, but alas his joking, which pokes fun at the entire reason for the alien’s invasion, is deceitful as it leads nowhere. Favreau has, for some unknown reason, added a multitude of unnecessary complexities that are awkwardly shoved into any gap between shoot-ups. A character (not telling who) that is actually from another world, in retrospect seems like a brilliant twist. I love the idea that these aliens don’t just want to kick the crap out of Earth and that there is a bigger picture to the scenario. But this is ruined by the painfully disjointed storytelling and poor acting.

Another thing that I can’t stand about films is the use of token minorities. Why is the mysterious traveller a beautiful young woman? Why do the Native Americans take up a large portion of the film and get all buddy-buddy with the cowboys for a final stand? It seemed insulting to both women and Native Americans, who had become nothing more than showy puppets in a tedious story. The film may as well be called Cowboys, aliens and arbitrary characters.

All the same, Cowboys and Aliens does have some redeemable qualities. The aliens, whose design I was anxiously awaiting – eyes squinting and jaws clenched – surpassed my expectations. Ford is a diamond in the rough, his dirty, underhanded character harking back to the true ideals of Westerns.

But too much of it left me wanting and confused. Craig’s back-story is boring and doesn’t really make sense, there are numerous pointless characters, and the aliens’ motive is flawed. Their spaceship, camouflaged to look like the surrounding rock formations, is as discreet as a flashing neon sign saying “aliens here, come on down”. My friend turned to me in the midst of the action and said “Why does everything have to have slime on it?” But when I thought about it I wanted bucket loads of slime. I wanted cowboys with shiny spurs shooting aimlessly. I wanted the cheesiness that made classic Westerns and sci-fi movies great. Instead, as pointed out by my equally bemused friend, Cowboys and Aliens follows clichés with too much seriousness.

Cowboys and Aliens opened 18 August 2011 and is screening across Brisbane.
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