A film titled Cowboys & Aliens sounds—for a lack of a better word—dumb. But in Jon Favreau‘s latest directorial venture, that’s exactly what you’re going to get, and you just have to take it for what it is. What it is is a no-deep-bullshit show of gratuitous eye candy (In the form of chaotic explosions and action sequences, semi-frightening extraterrestrial creatures, Daniel Craig trading in his couture James Bond suits for Old West garb and still looking fly, and a briefly nude Olivia Wilde). So despite the disjointed screenplay, empty characters, and outlandish premise, it at least does its job of being a loud, heart-racing summer thriller.
Though it’s moderately campy and very strange, there’s still something so interesting about a classic Western showdown that rather unites cowboys and Indians against a bigger threat of powerful, outworldly beings. The background of the feud basically goes something like this: Craig, as the character Jake Lonerghan, finds himself in the middle of the desert in Absolution, Arizona territory with no idea of where he is and how he got there. However, he does find a strange stab-like wound on his side and a large bracelet wrapped around his wrist. He also finds himself wanted for a slew of crimes, and followed by a mysterious woman named Ella (Wilde) who seems to know a little bit more about him and seeks his help. During a standoff with the town’s feared-upon cattleman Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), Jake and the town’s inhabitants find themselves attacked by outside forces with spaceships, not horses, and it’s revealed that the bracelet Jake possesses has the power to fight off the invaders, though they have already killed some and abducted many of the inhabitants. As the film progresses, the invaders’ motivations are revealed and Jake and Woodrow must overcome their differences to form alliances with the natives and Jake’s former gang to defeat them. The only other big name in the cast that matters is Sam Rockwell, who plays a spiritual saloon owner.
For what they’re given—and for such an absurd film—the actors melt into their roles well. Craig doesn’t have to try to be a rugged hero, Ford doesn’t have to act stubborn, and Wilde naturally has alluring mystique. Rockwell, who never seems to mold into a certain type of character, once again proves his adaptability, and why his role should have been more expanded. The action and the violence is intense and rapturous, and just the right amount of obnoxious for a wannabe summer hit. Besides those sequences, the costumes, and the people, the set designs are spectacular. There’s nothing inauthentic about how Absolution is constructed—everything from the saloons to the general stores is something out of True Grit (The only Western I can recall watching in recent memory), and the aliens’ chambers, while overwhelmingly blinding, instill a foreign modernity that somehow blends in to the theme of clashing cultures. Despite the fragile story and all its other flaws, there’s no denying that this movie is a very well-produced piece.
If a film about cowboys fighting aliens still sounds stupid to you, stay far, far away. But if the idea piques your interest and you come into the film with low expectations, it’s a fine risk to take. It’s mindless and out-there, yet in spite of it’s lame, straight-forward title, it’s not at all near “Worst Movies of All-Time” list material. Just enjoy it if you need an escape from thinking and want to immerse yourself in a truly action-packed and explosive flick before school’s back in session.