I've heard that the graphic novel "Cowboys and Aliens" is pretty awful. So, I guess what happened, was that someone decided to make a movie about it.
Jon Favreau's newest Cowboys and Aliens is the definition of a movie that doesn't reach its potential. It's adequately made and solidly acted but also filled with an incredible amount of stupidity, and, worst of all, a serious lack of creativity.
Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have yet to write anything I consider "good". Both Transformers films and Star Trek failed to reach their potential and it's no surprise that Cowboys and Aliens receives the same fate. Part of the problem may be the mammoth list of writers attached to this project - too many cooks. Especially strange are Steve Oedekerk and Damon Lindelof since they write things that are, respectively, silly slapstick and well, good.
The first half of Cowboys and Aliens is intriguing and well-made. We have an interesting protagonist and a fantastic setting. It's almost a shame that aliens are part of the movie at all. Daniel Craig (in a flawless accent) is so goddamn serious that you can't help but take him seriously, regardless of the all the nonsense happening around him. For the first half, we follow him confidently, enjoying his character. The movie moves along at a great pace for a while, even making the aliens intriguing and exciting.
Then we get a plot twist. Ah, Hollywood, you are a dastardly mistress. The moment this twist comes into play (I'm referring to the twist regarding Olivia Wilde's character) the movie goes downhill and fast. It's almost like Hancock if it were stupider.
It seems like as soon as the twist happens, all logic and reason go straight out the window, as though Damon Lindelof worked so hard on re-writing the first half of the movie that he finally got frustrated and gave up. It's this point in the movie that hundreds of logistical errors pop up in almost every scene, the dialogue becomes atrocious, and the camera work seems to have been handed off to an eager film-student who has a soft spot for the zoom. And another thing - the Irish character is the stupidest character of 2011.
The single worst thing about Cowboys and Aliens is the lack of creativity in both the cowboys and the aliens. None of the characters are interesting except Craig and a Native American played by Adam Beach. The token "little kid" is incredibly annoying and serves no purpose except to appeal to a younger audience. It's rare when child actors are actually good, and Super 8 seems to have used up our reserve of great child actors for the year. The aliens are especially uncreative - big hulking toad-like things with green blood and exposed organs. Side note - why do all aliens have incredible armor that covers the outside of their bodies, but also have one spot where their heart is available to be shot or stabbed? And also how do the bullets our heroes shoot not harm them but sharp sticks they find on the ground go straight through? These are all questions Favreau should have thought about before even beginning to start photography on this movie.
There are salvageable elements. The cast is very solid. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are both great, and Olivia Wilde does the best she can with the stupid character she's been dealt. Sam Rockwell might be the best of the bunch, but that's no surprise at this point. The effects are fine, and Harry Gregson-Williams' score is fresh.
Other than that, Cowboys and Aliens is the let down of the year. It's almost like Kurtzman and Orci are the new Seltzer and Friedberg. They're very reliable. And not in the good way. I pray that Favreau can go back to his roots in comedy (Elf is fantastic) and not get to hypnotized by the summer blockbuster path he seems to have chosen. I'm sure Cowboys and Aliens already has a sequel in the works, and all I can do is hope that Favreau gives a second look at the script before he shouts "High ho Silver!" and gallops off into the sunset.