An old-fashioned Western with modern FX, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ rides roughshod

CRAGGY CRAIG | Daniel Craig projects the right amount of swagger as a gunslinger fighting ETs in 1873.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

2.5 out of 5 stars
Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Adam Beach, Olivia Wilde.
Rated PG-13. 115 mins.
Now playing in wide release.


Movie adaptations used to be based on literature and theater and even magazine articles. Nowadays, they are based on cartoons, video games, toys (the “Hasbro Presents” credit still gets a laugh during the opening credits of Transformers movies) and comic books. Such movies usually feel so pre-fab: Meta-cultural, with Hollywood navelgazing into a state of catatonia. (The games and comics are often inspired by trashy action movies, perpetuating the Mobius strip assembly line of dreck.)

But while Cowboys & Aliens’ source material is, sadly, a graphic novel about settlers and scalawags in 1873 New Mexico, its real progenitor is the movie Western of yore: Black hats versus white hats. Lasses and scoundrels in saloons. Gunslingers and cattlemen.

And extra-terrestrials. Yeah, it still is a sci-fi film.

The sci-fi, though, doesn’t overwhelm the tale, which has the plainspoken good-and-bad dichotomy of the genre, anchored by a humanity lacking in movies like Transformers. Daniel Craig (looking ripped, god bless him) plays an amnesiac bandit who apparently has successfully fought off the aliens with their own weapon, a metal wrist corsage that shoots laser blasts (but only when it needs to). He’s posse’d up with the local oligarch (played brutally at first by Harrison Ford, later cuddly as a kitten) to hunt down the aliens who are stealin’ our gold and rapin’ our women. (Actually, it’s not clear why they take people — one of many plot holes best ignored if you wanna get through the film.)

Director Jon Favreau added much-needed humor into the Iron Man movies, an element all but absent here, but cinematographer Matthew Libatique more than makes up for it with gorgeous landscapes and moodily underlit tableaux. Craig is well-suited to the craggy, silent loner: He’s brimming with testosteronic swagger … at least until the clusterfuck finale, a convoluted mess that overwhelms everyone involved, including any sense of logic in the storytelling.

Until then, though, it’s a kick-ass summer film with excellent production values — War of the Worlds with six-shooters and arrows.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.