In Silver City, Arizona, Apache Indians and Western settlers must lay their differences aside when an alien spaceship crash lands in their city.
There is something oddly comforting knowing that a film like Cowboys & Aliens is apart of the summer movie tent-pole. It's a high-concept plot with a great cast and a 2D fix to boot. Yet there is also something oddly discouraging knowing that the actual movie itself is just an entertaining movie instead of a great one.
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are a dynamite duo. Sure, it's Bond meets Indy, but let's not forget that it's the actors themselves that are the catch. Craig plays a man who wakes up with no memory of who he is in 1873 Arizona. Upon his search for the truth about himself, he discovers a small western town. When he finds out that he's actually a wanted criminal, everyone is after him, including the boss of the town, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford).
There's a great scene when Daniel Craig's character enters the town for the first time and discovers that Dolarhyde's drunk son Percy (played terrifically by Paul Dano) is causing problems in the town. He carelessly shoots his pistol in all directions. He stumbles up to our hero and demands money. Our hero not only takes him down, but Percy accidentally shoots a deputy in the process. Percy is taken to jail, but not without the threat of his father coming to his aid. When he and our hero are put in the same patty wagon together, I hoped that we were going to witness Daniel Craig and Paul Dano become this generation's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Instead, Dano's talents are wasted and we hardly see him again for the rest of the movie.
The first act of Cowboys & Aliens is a straight-up Cowboy western, the best part of the movie. After the first riveting alien invasion scene by what the humans call demons (how else could they justify what they're physical seeing?), the movie has a hard time trying to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be. But I still appreciate what this film is trying to be. It's a cool feeling to see such diverse genres being mashed up. Cowboys & Aliens takes off smoothly, but it has a hard time controlling such a high concept, giving it a much harder landing.
Aliens attack. People get taken. Now everyone must come together to get their people back. We meet Indians who send a character on a spiritual journey. We learn that there are other kinds of aliens than just bad ones. Then there's this huge plot-line about gold, and how the aliens value gold just as much as humans do, and the only explanation we get about that huge plot-line where the aliens value gold as much as humans do, is when someone important tells the main characters that the aliens value gold as much as humans do. The fact that it took five screenwriters to write this movie is a clear sign of narrative confusion.
Jon Favreau is a mature director, but he seems to be playing it safe. He takes the time to establish each character, but what's missing is the excitement of the journey. Everything is in place, the pieces are moving, but where is the sense of wonder in this potential franchise starter? Cowboys & Aliens should be the movie that brings every kind of moviegoer together. Instead, it provides the cliff notes to a better movie.