Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

While I like to think I've developed, over the years, a somewhat sophisticated taste when it comes to film – manifested more in what I'm choosing to not see than in what I'm choosing to see; I refused to see the last Transformers film, for example – but I'm still a sucker for the occasional 'popcorn flick'.

And, based on what I had read/seen about it, the recently-released Cowboys & Aliens fell under that category. Directed by Jon Favreau, whose work I'd admired in the two Iron Man films, and with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in the starring roles, it certainly had some potential.

So, off I went. Spoilers ahoy.

It certainly looks good on paper. It's cowboys and freaking aliens, for crying out loud – that just screams awesome. A director with a couple of solid films behind him, one of the most legendary actors of the last few decades – albeit one with very few well received films in recent years – and the current James Bond. For the (male) fanservice there's one of the current 'it' girls, the luminous Olivia Wilde.

As it opened, the cast just got more impressive: Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown – The Kurgan1 himself – Keith Carradine (of Dexter and Deadwood fame), Walton Goggins of The Shield, and There Will Be Blood's Paul Dano.

Sadly, though, it seemed to be working on some kind of inverse relationship; as the quality of the cast increased, the quality of the film decreased.

The word that comes to mind is 'thin'. Most The characters weren't explored in in any depth, so their actions often seemed at random, if not completely at odds with how they acted earlier – when formerly unpleasant characters were revealed as being, deep-down, decent people it seemed as a 'huh, what?' moment more than a 'oh, okay' moment.

Olivia Wilde's character is basically a deus ex machina – or, more accurately, deus ex aliena2 – and there's no explanation for how she got there or how she was able to do what she did.

The usual excuse made at this point is that it's just a silly action film and that I'm thinking too much about it, but I think that's a crap excuse for not putting in the effort to create characters and situations that balance out the action and provide a more satisfying experience. Thor managed it, and, to a lesser extent, so did Captain America.

Light doesn't have to equal inane.

That, in and of itself, wouldn't be a fatal flaw, but the action scenes – which I was expecting to be of much higher quality, given director Jon Favreau's track record – weren't anywhere near good enough to make up for the lack of engagement provided by the characters, and the otherwise formulaic nature of the plot.

Oh, and the aliens are kind of lame.

So, given my expectations, it was more than a little disappointing. A very good basic concept, with a great cast and the director of two quality films, and it turned out to be average at best.

1The bad guy in Highlander.
2Apologies for the poor Latin. Mea culpa.

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