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Cowboys and Aliens: An awesome film August 14, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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Many reviews have not been the most flattering about the recently released film Cowboys & Aliens.  The average rating has been around 2 stars — not terrible (“turable,” if you’re Charles Barkley), but not necessarily good, either.  After seeing the film, my conclusion is that the 2-star treatment is an error, for it merits a better assessment than that.

Full confession time:  I had actually been anticipating the release of this movie for most of the year, practically since I first saw the posters for it around December or January.  The title itself sounded intriguing — aliens in a wild west setting.  Then I found out the top-billed cast, and it hit me.  Director Jon Favreau came up with the right ingredients that when combined — at least, on paper — would make for one of the coolest ideas for a movie in recent memory.

What are the ingredients?  The setting, the top cast, and the story itself.  The setting is obvious, and has already been covered.  What about the cast?  The two big names are Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.  What is Daniel Craig known for playing these days?  Why, he’s the latest James Bond, with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace already under his belt, and Bond 23 due to be released in 2012.  What is Harrison Ford best known for playing?  Puh-leaze:  Indiana Jones!

With all of this in mind, how do things add up?  As mentioned previously, it adds up — again, on paper — to the coolest idea in recent memory:  James Bond and Indiana Jones team up to fight aliens in the old west.  Can a movie idea get any more awesome?  I submit ‘no.’

From there, things can only go in two directions:  either the movie lives up to such expectations of awesomeness, or it flops completely.  Usually, a film that potentially cool sounds too good to be true, and that was my primary concern going in to see it.  The concern was alleviated within the first minute.  Craig definitely brings his swagger and brutality that he used to portray Bond, and Harrison Ford brings his A-game as well.  One scene was particularly tantalizing in that it made many a movie buff wonder ‘what if James Bond did try to take on Indiana Jones?’  Craig plays a desperado trying to remember who he is and what he was doing.  His fighting style and cowboy tough guy talk definitely remind folks ‘in the know’ of 007.  Meanwhile, there certainly are times where Ford’s occasional glances and smirks are as if he inadvertantly let Indy seep into this role of Civil War army officer-turned-tyrannical town overlord (think Indiana Jones with a dark side).

So why the relatively low reviews?  Lots of critics expect every film they see to have the dramatic value of MacBeth or Death of Salesman, and when it does not deliver under such a false premise, then the film is to be panned.  Moreover, lots of critics do not understand some of the pre-requisites of westerns.  The beauty of the film is that it is a western first, a sci-fi flick second (albeit a close second).  As a western, you know going in that there are going to be cliches, and heaven knows, the film is rife with them.  If that bothers any would-be viewer, then he or she is apt to detract a star or two from their own personal rating.  But if they are of no consequence to others, then the others will be more apt not to be distracted from the film’s overall awesomeness.

As a western, it also delivers satisfaction.  A lone stranger with a more-than-checkered past comes into town.  The town’s overlord dislikes him, to say the least (Why, you ask?  Watch the film!), until all hell breaks loose, well, you get the rest.  Like most westerns, the emphasis is on actions, not words, though to be sure, the film is not without the occasionally choice dialog.

The object of the story is even somewhat cliche, that of disparate forces having to band together to overcome a foe with a host of advantages.  The action sequences are pure awesomeness, and the ending is very satisfactory, as is the character development taking place throughout the film.  Moreover, Olivia Wilde (who played Quorra in Tron: Legacy) does well as an unexpected helper in the protagonist’s cause, and it was a nice touch to see Adam Beach (who played the part of Ira Hayes in Flags of our Fathers), whose character becomes a needed ambassador as the story unfolds.

If you’re looking for a good movie for a “Saturday (or Friday) night out with the boys” occasion, this film is perfect.  It is perfect for a father taking is son and son’s friends* for a fun time, or for a band of college buddies getting together for movie night.  If this film were made and released during my undergrad days, the boys and I would still be talking about it today:  it delivers that well.  James Bond and Indiana Jones team up to fight aliens in the old west.  A movie like that is so awesome, it’s worth repeating.

*Bear in mind that with a PG-13 rating, there is some violence — mostly modern western-style shooting violence, etc., so it is always wise for parents to exercise discretion accordingly.

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