By Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz
With the summer winding down, comic books and graphic novel properties are exiting the cinema roster for 2011. And Cowboys & Aliens is the most prominent one that hadn’t been released until now, as well, and perhaps the least anticipated. Not built off a long running character like Thor, Captain America or Green Lantern were.
Cowboys & Aliens is based off the graphic novel of the same name but didn’t have nearly the same level of anticipation as some of the more popular properties turned into cinematic pieces this year. And perhaps it was for good reason because Cowboys & Aliens is easily the most lackluster property developed from the comic realm of the year.
It has a fairly simple premise. Set in the Wild West, Jake (Daniel Craig) is a criminal whose memory has left him but has a strange looking bracelet on his hand. After a scuffle with the son (Paul Dano) of the town’s local businessman (Harrison Ford) on behest of an innkeeper (Sam Rockwell) puts him in the crosshairs of the law, and a beautiful female gunfighter (Olivia Wilde), aliens attack for unknown reasons.
Forcing Jake to team up with everyone willing, including local Native American tribesmen, it becomes a battle to save humanity taking elements from science fiction and the western genres and mashing them together. But there’s a problem with all of it.
Neither element is strong enough to make it into anything but a mediocre film when combined.
The film’s main problem is that the moments between action sets tend to drag significantly. Big moments for the film when Jake reunites with his old gang, or when the cowboys and Indians have to combine forces, are significantly longer and more drawn out than they need to be. This is more of an editing problem than a story problem as they need to exist for a reason, and can’t be cut entirely, but a more judicious trim would do the film wonders. This is a film that borders on two hours but would be much tighter in 90. This is a film that should have a much faster pace than it is given, which is more uneven and takes away from the fun the plot generates.
This is light and breezy, but never being campy, and Favreau has crafted a film that borrows heavily from his prior work on Iron Man and Iron Man 2 to a lesser extent. It’s not surprising that Robert Downey Jr. was attached to this project in place of Daniel Craig because the character is written for an actor like Downey.
Craig is admirable in the role, giving it a hard edge needed to make us think of him as a guy who’s done bad things in his past and has no qualms doing them in the future, but there are certain points where it’s easy to see that this isn’t a character written with Craig in mind. It doesn’t play to his strengths and this might be the first film where he doesn’t smile or show any emotion.
Cowboys & Aliens is the last major comic property of 2011 and the genre exits the year not with a bang but with a whimper, a mediocre film that is breezy fun enough to show glimpses of brilliance.
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