Well, really, what should I have expected? The movie is called Cowboys and Aliens, not Amazingness and Awesomeness. Here’s a description from imdb.com:
A spaceship arrives in Arizona, 1873, to take over the Earth, starting with the Wild West region. A posse of cowboys are all that stand in their way.
Yup. That’s what this movie is about. Why didn’t I prepare myself for the cheese? (Because I thought Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were fantastic enough by themselves to make it epic, probably). I think this movie can be enjoyable. There’s no question it’s better than Green Lantern. But just…prepare yourself, don’t expect it to be amazing, embrace the cheesiness, campy theatrics and silly plot twists. I didn’t and I was cringing three quarters through thinking I was going to have to say it wasn’t good, but the more that I thought about it afterwards the more I convinced myself it wasn’t as bad as I thought. (Still, I shouldn’t have to work this hard to like a movie that has James Bond and Indiana Jones/Han Solo!)
The two stars were actually great. They have earned their “movie star” titles, they look great, and they deliver excellent performances. Daniel Craig especially looks very, very nice in his riding chaps, ducking his head down so you can’t see his smoldering eyes under his hat brim. Reminds me of my old favorite, Jim Craig. (Hey, same name, even!)
There were a lot of general “cowboy/western” elements, like dialects that allow double-modals (“might could”), shots of whiskey, the sizzling barrel of a recently fired gun being used as a weapon itself, and people making sure to go back and grab their hats even as they run away from a huge explosion. Gotta have your hat. One character is seen shooting a shotgun while being whisked through the air mid-abduction–that’s cowboy grit! Oh, and even though it’s called Cowboys and Aliens, don’t worry, there are Indians, too. (And apparently the filmmakers really tried to give them an authentic representation, which is great and not at all how that population has often been portrayed on screen in the past. Their part is still pretty cheesy but at that point pretty much everything else is, too.)
There are also some scalps hanging from saddlebags, towards the beginning. Is that so we don’t feel bad when those characters die moments later? Similar to the way they made the lobby desk guy and the coke-head co-worker in Die Hard so annoying, so you weren’t bothered when the bad guys shot them? Let’s not forget, no matter how annoying or vile or barbaric someone is, they are still a soul that God wants to redeem and we shouldn’t take anyone’s death lightly. (I know, I know, it’s just a movie–but this is the part where I think critically about it.)
Mysterious rogue cowboy Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is greedy, and it costs him terribly. I don’t know if he really learns his lesson, either. He recognizes at one point that it’s his fault someone died, but he’s comforted when another character says “no it’s not.” (Um, yes, it is!) And later, he’s lovingly fingering the gold in the midst of a shoot-out in the alien’s hideout. (Because the aliens, too, are greedy for gold. **SPOILER ALERT** One of them even dies by molten gold! Well if THAT isn’t some great imagery for the love of money being destructive to your life! Anyway, Lonergan’s storyline isn’t really very satisfying. He spends much of the movie not remembering what kind of man he was, and when he finds out he doesn’t seem to care or try to change. The Preacher tells him, “God doesn’t care who you were, son, only who you are,” and that’s true to some extent, but only if you’ve repented from your past. You don’t get to skip from bad guy to good guy in God’s book just because you help rescue some people from Aliens, but you can get a fresh start and become a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17) **END SPOILER**
Meanwhile, Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is a crotchety, mean, old man. We’re told through dialogue that he “despise[s] battle, but…would never run from it.” Some of his actions paint a much more ruthlessly violent picture. One of his faithful hired hands defends his gruff boss by saying “He means well,” but is that really an excuse? Dolarhyde’s storyline is less than compelling as well, because although Paul Dano, (the guy from Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood), does a terrific job portraying his immature, spoiled son, not enough of their father-son relationship is developed to make their semi-redemption at the end very moving.
**SPOILER ALERT** What I mean is, if it had been established that the reason Percy Dolarhyde was such an annoying little bully was because he was frustrated from being treated like a child and babysat by hired hands all day and never allowed to participate in his dad’s cattle-driving business, then it would have made more sense for Mr. Dolarhyde senior to start giving him more responsibility at the end. But instead, Percy doesn’t ever prove himself in any way, (he’s unconscious most of the movie), and the Col.’s decision at the end to include Percy in his business is unmotivated. Maybe he’s just deciding to start treating his son differently and hoping that Percy can earn the responsibilities he’s extending, but I don’t anticipate that will go very well as it appears he’s never had any responsibility before in his life. He hasn’t shown he can be entrusted with little. **END SPOILER**
The obligatory Preacher figure seems like he genuinely cares about helping people, but he espouses some questionable theology. I’ve captured the majority of his dialogue here, (but be warned it’s very spoiler-y). My biggest argument would probably be with what he tells poor sympathetic Doc, who is desperately trying to save his abducted wife but doesn’t posses the necessary skills. (He can’t hit a target for beans). A frustrated Doc says that either God “ain’t up there, or he don’t like me.” The Preacher tells him he has to “earn [God’s] presence, and then you gotta learn to recognize it, and then you gotta act on it. ” I like the bit about having to learn to recognize how God is working in your life, (maybe in Doc’s case by having Lonergan’s skills and Dolarhyde’s resources dedicated to the same goal as his), but I’m not so sure about the accuracy of having to “earn” God’s presence. I’m not sure what he means by that. It could be he’s trying to not give a cliche answer to Doc’s question, which is essentially “If God is good why are these bad things happening”, never an easy one to grapple with. The Preacher didn’t seem all that orthodox, but in any case the Doc later said that he “made me feel better,” although Doc remained a skeptic.
Final verdict: not terrible, gloriously cheesy in the last quarter. Maybe go to a matinee or wait for it on DVD. Unless you are the kind of person that will be excited to see an alien getting lassoed or speared.