Cowboys & Aliens is a tale about cowboys….and aliens. The movie gets its name and basic premise (very, very basic) from the comic created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg and written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley.
Written by (screenplay) Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby & Steve Oedekerk
Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan
Harrison Ford as Woodrow Dolarhyde
Olivia Wilde as Ella Swenson
Sam Rockwell as Doc
Clancy Brown as Meacham
Paul Dano as Percy Dolarhyde
Adam Beach as Nat Colorado
Noah Ringer as Emmett Taggart
Keith Carradine as Sheriff John Taggart
Spoiler filled synopsis and review after the break.
In 1873, New Mexico Territory, an unnamed loner awakens in the desert injured, with no memory, and a strange metal band shackled to his wrist. After quickly killing a group of scalpers that threatens him, he wanders into the small town of Absolution, where the local preacher, Meacham, treats his wound. After the stranger subdues Percy Dolarhyde, who has been terrorizing the populace, Sheriff Taggart recognizes him as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw, and tries to arrest him. Jake nearly escapes, but a mysterious woman named Ella Swenson knocks him out.
Percy’s father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, a rich and influential cattleman, arrives with his men and demands that Percy be released to him. He also wants Jake, who stole Dolarhyde’s gold. During the standoff, alien spaceships begin attacking the town, and Percy, the sheriff, and many townsfolk are abducted. Jake shoots down one ship with a device concealed in his wrist band, ending the attack.
Dolarhyde, Ella, and some townsfolk form a posse to track an alien that may have ejected from the downed ship. Jake, meanwhile, travels to an abandoned cabin, and in a flashback, recalls returning there with the gold just before he and a woman, Alice, were abducted by the aliens. Jake returns to join the posse. During the night, while taking refuge in a paddleboat in the middle of the desert, the alien they were tracking appears and kills Meacham.
By the next morning, most of the posse has deserted, and the others are attacked by Jake’s former gang. Jake, who stole the gang’s loot after their last heist, attempts to retake control, but fails. As he and the others flee, the aliens begin attacking again and Ella is seized. Jake jumps aboard the ship and attacks the alien pilot, causing the ship to crash, but Ella is mortally wounded.
Chiricahua Apaches capture the posse, blaming them for the alien attacks. As Ella’s body is dumped on a fire, she is fully resurrected. Ella reveals that she is actually an alien who traveled to Earth to help resist the invaders after they destroyed her homeworld. The aliens, who have been abducting humans to perform experiments on, are also mining gold to power their machines. They are not invulnerable, however: Jake’s gauntlet weapon can kill them, as well as stabbing and shooting, though the creatures are far stronger and more durable than humans and have superior weapons. Ella claims Jake holds the secret to the aliens’ whereabouts and says they must stop them before they exterminate all life on the planet. After drinking the Apaches’ medicinal brew, Jake recalls that Alice died in an alien experiment, but he escaped, inadvertently stealing the alien weapon. He can also remembers the aliens’ hidden location.
Armed with this knowledge, the group, now led by Colonel Dolarhyde, prepares to attack the aliens’ grounded mothership. Jake returns to his old gang and persuades them to join the fight. In a sneak attack, the humans breach the spaceship, forcing the aliens into a ground battle. Jake and Ella board the ship and free the captives, but Jake is captured. Dolarhyde rescues him and both men escape the ship after killing the alien leader. As the remaining aliens are taking off in their damaged craft, Ella sacrifices herself, destroying the ship using Jake’s gauntlet.
Jake’s memory partially returns, and some abducted townsfolk can recall their past, while others, including Percy Dolarhyde, cannot. Still a wanted man, Jake decides to leave; the sheriff and Dolarhyde say they will claim that he was killed. The citizens intend to rebuild the town with the expectation that the newly discovered gold mine will soon bring many new settlers.
After initially watching the movie, I thought it was okay. Not really good, but also not really bad. I had no previous knowledge of the book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t really like the whole memory loss thing, but whatever. A few days later, I happened to find the comic book (graphic novel for you elitists) in a bookstore and flipped through it. First thing I noticed immediately was how different the aliens were in the book than those in the movie. The ones in the movie were almost animal-like, whereas, the aliens in the book seemed intelligent and were speaking. After this discovery, I decided to dig a little deeper into the story of the comic. Thanks to the great Wikipedia, I discovered that the story in the comic was much different than the story in the movie. The two main characters were different. The location was different. The abductions were gone. A main character not remembering who he is was gone. In the comic story, I found what I was wanting to see. Aliens landing in the Old West, and cowboys fighting them.
I felt that the movie tried to be too deep, too thought provoking, and too clever. All of the stuff that was added turned what should have been a fun Western into a convoluted Science Fiction movie. I mean, we have Han Solo/Indiana Jones teaming with James Bond, being directed by the guy who gave us Iron Man. Cowboys & Aliens should have been a fun movie to watch.
I like redemption stories as much as the next guy, but there was no need to have not one, but two redemption arcs going on. If you really feel like you need one in this movie, then leave the Dolarhyde story, but get rid of the Lonergan back story. It’s just not needed. It is possible to have a guy roaming the desert, and not know why he’s doing it. Look at Fistfull of Dollars. The viewer has no clue where Clint Eastwood’s character came from, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what he’s doing there. Lonergan could have easily been that unknown here type of character.
The abduction and experimentation also didn’t make much sense. So, they’re keeping this decent number of people alive to experiment on and look for weaknesses, so that they can invade and conquer? Shouldn’t their experience with devouring people give them a clue that they are much stronger than humans, and should have no problem with using force? It was just something else to make this movie more dramatic than it should have been.
In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend paying to see this movie. If you have Netflix, wait for it to come out on video.