Cartoonist Gary Larson once drew a Far Side comic about cowboys and aliens. It was as simple as a cowboy running from a formation of flying saucers, the caption read: “The often romanticised image of cowboys and aliens.” That’s how ridiculous the premise of this movie is – the very notion of cowboys fighting extraterrestrials is enough to provoke a hearty chuckle, writes Stephen Bourke.

And when the premise is as random as this, you start to worry. Splicing genres together and seeing what manages to crawl out isn’t generally going to produce a particularly coherent movie.  The most you could expect would be a halfway decent comedy or just something so bad it develops a cult following.  This was all I expected of Cowboys and Aliens.

Then the trailer came out.  Daniel Craig, is that you?  Oh Bond, what have you stooped t- IS THAT HARRISON FORD?  And that looks like production value and decent cinematography.  What the hell, this actually looks good!

Outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert with a mysterious bracelet on his wrist, a strange wound in his side and no memory of his past life.  The film starts off as a straight-up Western – there’s a gunfight, a brawl and a bounty on a man’s head.  Local bully Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) decides to terrorise the locals, but runs afoul of the gruff, tough Lonergan.  Both quickly end up in the clink, and are about to be handed over to federal marshalls when aliens come and abduct half the characters.

It’s as simple and sudden as that, and it works quite well.  The survivors are forced to band together to get their people back, and what begins as a dazed waking in the desert to stir up a frontier town becomes an epic struggle between desperate humans and cruel aliens.

Harrison Ford gives a typically strong performance as the local cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde, who rules the town with an iron fist.  Daniel Craig is utterly convincing as a tough, taciturn bandit-made-good, and Olivia Wilde charms as the mysterious western woman.

The aliens are truly menacing and quite an unsettling presence in the film.  They’re in the vein of the Independence Day – preparing to attack Earth for gold and natural resources, killing everythng in the process.  Whatever CGI wizardry and elaborate puppetry was used, it made them completely convincing and quite scary. I would call that a success.

Director Jon Favreau has produced something rather excellent in Cowboys and Aliens.

By deliberately sidestepping what he called the “fool’s gold” of a straight-up comedy, this is a solid big-budget action movie and definitely one of the best of this summer’s blockbusters.

That’s not bad for something that started as a one-panel comic strip.

Originally published on Campus.ie

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