Review: Favreau's 'Cowboys & Aliens' is One Part Dull, One Part Tired

July 28, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Review

The level of interest in the dull and drab Cowboys & Aliens begins to taper off extremely early in the film. After white on black titles, we are introduced to Daniel Craig's awaking Jake Lonergan, a man who has no memory of who he is but finds himself with a strange mechanical device strapped to his left wrist. The desert surrounding him is shot with a dingy dryness by director Jon Favreau, an arid and dusty landscape that calls to reference the grungy spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s. But soon after, Lonergan finds himself in the middle of a standoff with three men, three men he takes down with little effort, and proceeds to the nearest town where he looks for answers about his past.

Not long after this the alien drone ships arrive, abducting citizens by roping them up as they pass overhead. It's up to Lonergan and a handful of townsfolk, including local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde, played by Harrison Ford, to track down the alien ships and find their loved ones.

It's called Cowboys & Aliens, and that name is quite literal. The title is its premise, a cinematic aspect that seemed to peak and die with Snakes on a Plane. But it didn't have to be as such. Aside from the very interesting premise that arises from such a title, Cowboys & Aliens, a Summer blockbuster, could have hit an excitement level that forced your interest to keep up. It could have been both a sweeping entry into the Western genre while still allowing itself to be a highly entertaining alien invasion movie. Sadly, it ends up being neither one. Instead any fun and adventure that should have been cooked into this turkey gets swept away with the dust of the opening sequence, and all you want is for everyone, not just the aliens, to go home.

Favreau and crew—all six screenwriters included—don't seem to know where they wanted to inject that shot of adrenaline. It could have come at any point. When Lonergan stands up to Percy Dolarhyde, Woodrow's truculent son played by Paul Dano. It could have come when we're introduced to Woodrow, a rather unsympathetic man himself who could have filled in as an interesting secondary antagonist to the aliens for Lonergan. It could have even come from the imagery of alien ships chasing after men on horseback. Okay, that image is actually kind of cool in execution, too. Instead, once the aliens carry off with their cargo - coincidentally, one member of each family - everyone teams up for the greater good. The animosity between any human character raises back up here and there, but it never amounts to anything.

And from here, Cowboys & Aliens goes into a wash-rinse-repeat cycle that has the newly formed posse running into sporadic detours on their journey, only to be saved and put back into the fire by conveniently placed alien attacks. The attacks themselves are decently shot. Favreau is no stranger to shooting action, but there's no suspense, no edge-of-your-seat excitement that ever comes from any predicament. That's even after we've established that these characters can die.

It's probably that we simply don't care. Lonergan doesn't know his past. We learn through flashbacks—also conveniently timed—who he is along with him, but the care is never put into the character from either the screenwriters or Craig himself who appears to be zoning out much of the time. Once the mystery of who he is and how ended up where we are introduced to him is fully revealed, we've moved on from caring, especially since it's about here the ridiculous exposition kicks in.

Exposition is a tricky beast to take down as it is, but the lazy screenwriting found here doesn't even seem to be trying to hide its awkwardness. It all comes from one character, a character who conveniently - there's that word again - knows all but chooses until just the right time to reveal all. Every time this character opens their mouth in the back half of the film, it only serves to relay unnecessary information to the other character and to the audience.

But even clunky exposition and tedious characters can work their way into an exciting adventure movie. Unfortunately, hardly anyone involved in Cowboys & Aliens seems to be having fun. Ford growls as he's been doing in every movie for the past 10 years. There are moments here and there where he and Craig give each other looks that say something without dialogue. Those moments are slightly antic. Sam Rockwell appears to be the only member of the cast who is enjoying himself through and through, and though he's playing an ancillary character, you almost yearn for the moments he comes on screen.

The creature design, much like the rest of the movie, seems piecemeal from about a dozen other alien movies. They are somewhat scary at first, the few moments we only get small glimpses of them in the dark. By the third act, they're running out in broad daylight for all to see and for all to be disappointed in, but we'll let you experience that on your own.

And that disappointment carries on and on in just about every aspect of Cowboys & Aliens. A Western film that seems finite—not even broad shots of the landscape can strike the necessary boundless chord—and an alien invasion film that feels stale and lumbering—the motivation behind the invasion is head-slapping awful—it plods along with the same pedestrian momentum brought on by the opening white on black title cards. To that end, at least Cowboys & Aliens plays its poker hand early, never teasing you of something greater and not following through on it. Instead, all we have is an interesting title that calls to mind an equally interesting premise and the boring execution that follows.

Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10

Find more posts: Opinions, Review



hmm you're too kind Jeremy Kirk, i would give this a 2 out of ten, everything feels lazy and staged

Dpramroop on Jul 28, 2011


This is coming from someone that transformers .......... That says alot 

Staticx_1981 on Jul 28, 2011


Uh... what?

Vision on Jul 28, 2011


Thanks for being thorough so we can all understand what you mean to say.

JL on Jul 29, 2011


Transformers was great summer fun gramps, maybe u would have been more suiyed for tom hanks on a bicycle

Trey on Jul 29, 2011


LOL. Fanboys can be so touchy.

Anonymous on Jul 29, 2011


ouch 🙁  Love the Craig and the Favreau...Thought the Spielberg touch would put it over the top.  I guess I'll have to approach this one cautiously 🙂

Gabriel Palmer on Jul 28, 2011


wow, i hav'e nt seen this yet, but i was expecting it to be great, i don't know why it just seemed to have all the right ingredients for a classic, dissapointed.

RhythmDave on Jul 28, 2011


Your use of the word 'convenient' is maddening!  What part of a movie- a summer blockbuster type especially -do you want to be inconvenient and difficult?  It's a fictional story.  Of COURSE those things are in those places.  Not only is it convenient, but it's also (spoiler) INTENTIONAL!  DUN DUN DUN! "When I go see a movie about aliens and explosions and weird wrist shooter things on cowboys, I prefer that the story is convoluted and hard to follow.  I want to play detective!" Give me a break.

Daniel Scott Williams on Jul 28, 2011


I think you're misinterpreting the use of "convenient." What makes a story work is to be challenged on an unconscious level, to have the filmmakers make choices that surprise and, therefore, delight the audience. When something is "convenient" it is stale and not thought out, it gives you what you expected, which can often disappoint.

Anonymous on Jul 28, 2011


Still might see it, never expected it to blow me away, especially with all the rest of the blockbusters that came out the last few months. This movie ends out the best summer for cinema I can remember in my life as of yet.

PyroDark on Jul 28, 2011


Watch Cowboys vs. Freddiew instead, it has Jon Favreau and is a fan film backed up by Universal or w/e the company is. It's on YouTube and was one of the biggest viral videos for the week. I'm just a big fan of Freddiew and his work and I recommend it.

09ine on Jul 28, 2011


I don't mean to nit pick, but what does... "They why of the alien abductions come, even if they don't hold much sway on that interest level that has long since dissipated"                                                     ...mean?

Richie on Jul 28, 2011


I think he meant to say "The" Why of the alien abductions come, even if they don't hold much sway on that interest level that has long since dissipated

Tankmasterjoe on Jul 28, 2011


agreed! I had to pause and re-read that sentence and I was like "what?"....Jeremy, you gotta explain this!

Conrad Williams on Jul 28, 2011


I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I WAS GOING FOR THERE! LOL Uh, I think it was a sentence that somehow got a chunk deleted. I totally removed it now. Thanks, guys.

Jeremy Kirk on Jul 28, 2011


THis is the worst written movie review I have ever read; it's hard to take your critical analysis seriously when your diction and syntax is so poor.

Sean McGarry on Jul 28, 2011


At least I've set that bar. Nowhere to go but up now, huh?

Jeremy Kirk on Jul 28, 2011


Jeremy up yours seems to be the thing for you to do as mentioned later you are an absolute prat full of your own self importance and assuming that your judgment is better than  every body else. All hail to the bullshitter, and perhaps choose another job.

Davidhallparagon on Aug 25, 2011


I have to agree with the majority of the people here that this review is poor as can be. No real evidence behind any reasoning its just a several paragraph version of the sentence "Cowboys & Aliens is about Cowboys & Aliens". Thanks for the tip, I didnt know that. I wont even bother reading any more Jeremy Kirk reviews.

Alex Williams on Jul 28, 2011


Second that notion. Lotta stuff just doesn't make sense and is just poor advisory. It's a sci-fi/western mash up...not JFK = )

Conrad Williams on Jul 28, 2011


Well said.... He didn't even bother to state that sam Rockwell is actually a bar owner named doc. I haven't even seen it, but I knew that. Very lazy review. Clearly this guy doesn't understand westerns. Get rid of him Alex!

Indyjack on Jul 28, 2011


Totally. Ugh. This guys sucks! DROP HIM ALEX!!! ARGH!!! ANGER!!!

Jeremy Kirk on Jul 28, 2011


What also really gets me is, ok so you dislike the movie finding it tacky and inconvenient or what have you...that's your opinion, but geez dude, thanks for basically explaining the entire plot/movie to us before the movie has even come out! Hell, its 11:10pm right (Jeremy kirk) couldn't have waited maybe 24 hours at the most to 50 minutes at the least to write your pathetic review?? Seriously though, Alex and Conrad, you both make excellent points.

Jwb3 on Jul 29, 2011


The trailers were awful - how could you expect much from this film - very low on my list - a dvd rental at best. Stupid premise!

Dom on Jul 28, 2011



Tyler Morgan on Jul 28, 2011


kirk i definitely understood your review for the movie it just sounds like it wasnt the summer action blockbuster we were all expecting dont listen to these other bitches lol 

Jalts4 on Jul 28, 2011


Get to the much of Olivia Wilde do we get to see?!?!?!!?!?

Voice of Reason on Jul 28, 2011


Hmmm? I take it-it's a loud, average popcorn flick? I figured with the Spielberg/Favreau/Ford/Craig combo + Wilde/Rockwell combo = Blockbuster Hit! The premise seems to be pretty kick-ass! I'll still check this out and see for myself.  

Spider on Jul 28, 2011


Have low expectations for this one. Going to a free screening at CityWalk tonight. We shall see.....

Chris Amaya on Jul 28, 2011


Well this proves once again, this is of course, just someone else's opinion. After reviews like Fast 5 and Transformers 3, I have decided to just come here for the news and scoops and ignore the reviews.  Best thing you can do is find friends who's taste is close enough to your own top ten, and have them report back to you.

Anonymous on Jul 28, 2011


I haven't seen it yet but I am glad this is receiving the criticism that it didn't get during its marketing campaign. I know people like to wait for these "super awesome" summer films but a lemon is a lemon. Cowboys and Aliens? From the start it didn't make any sense at all. Maybe we can start to critically judge what we've seen from films before we go ape-sh!t crazy about them.

Tyler Morgan on Jul 28, 2011


I had the pleasure of enjoying this movie on Tuesday, seriously this was a fun as hell movie. It kicked me back to the days when I would watch an old western with my grandpa on TV with a scifi element thrown in. OF COURSE this movie is not going to be deep or sluethy, have you ever seen an old western. I felt like Favre did an excellent job puting the pieces together of COWBOYS AND ALIENS. It really shows how people would react to an alien encounter back in the old west. I give this movie 7 out of 10. Because it is quite simple, this isnt a scifi movie, this is a western. It feels like a western it looks like a western. The only thing missing was The Duke!

Zach Spangler on Jul 28, 2011


Brett Favre, WOOOOOO!!!

JL on Jul 29, 2011


HAHAHA! sorry for the spelling error. Football on the mind.

ZSpang on Jul 29, 2011


If you wanna see where this film ripped this idea off of , just rent the underrated "Outlander" movie, with the Vikings against an excellent creature! It's way better than this!!

jah p on Jul 29, 2011


You do realize that it was actually a graphic novel first. Right? So the movie didnt rip off anything. Maybe the novel did.

ZSpang on Jul 29, 2011


Haven't seen this, so I can't really speak to the quality. But I have to say that the title goddamn irritates me. It's so basic and descriptive, all it really does is describe a setting. It's like calling Apocalypse Now "Army Jungle Freakout", or calling Austin Powers "Bond Satire Film".

Lebowski on Jul 29, 2011


Just got back from seeing it. It wasn't bad. It wasn't great either but I kind of enjoyed it.

Chris Amaya on Jul 29, 2011


Wow what a drawn out self indulgent reviewer! Thanks for the heads up but I am going to go see it  this weekend.

Trey on Jul 29, 2011


So it's not just me. This reviewer is a real douche. Mind you Alex comes across one most of the time as well, but have to hand it to them they do run one hell of a great blog.

Dcsharp on Jul 29, 2011


The movie fell flat.  I wouldn't recommend it to my friends.  How disappointing too.  

Eric on Jul 29, 2011


i dunno if you are gonna end up reading this comment jeremy but honestly you have been TOO KIND to this movie. They took the acting talent of Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell and used it in such an awful AWFUL script. Its almost unforgivable. It was as if a different writer was hired for every scene. and it would have been a MUCH better movie if the villains werent aliens but regular humans. It would have at least been a proper western then.

Anon on Jul 30, 2011


It worked. However different the concepts they were pieced together remarkably well. I admit it has slow moments but and could have been better but NOT much better. And for you western-wanting complaining, its a Western/Sci-fi not one but both. I was pleasently surprised how well it worked with its elements. And if you liked Transformers more, you have a poor taste in movie dialogue/script. Both 1 and 2 had some of the worst scripts I've seen in action films but some of best effects. I'll take Cowboys & Aliens over Transformers (any of them) in a heartbeat. Overall a good movie but not very great either. It did not fall flat as I actually liked Daniel Criag's character and Harrison Ford easily pulled off thier characters despite thier lackluster feel (then again thats a Western element). 7/10.

Vectis on Aug 8, 2011


As an old fart who has seen an awful lot films good bad and indifferent a few things spring to mind after reading your review firstly it's not as bad as you say although that is obviously a subjective judgement .It's not trying to be a masterwork nor a filmic version of the Bard, it's just trying entertain a large group of people, which I think it does succeed in doing and  make money (nothing wrong with that). So go see it yourself and ask if it was worth the entrance fee, and don't forget you haven't gone to see a movie masterpiece which you would probably find somewhat boring.Vectis's comments seem reasonably correct to myself.So Jeremy, try not to sound like a film critic from the media who seem to be all prats. And whose views should be ignored.  

Davidhallparagon on Aug 24, 2011


Let me see if I understand the role and qualifications of a film critic, first believe that anybody cares what your opinion is second think that your opinion can be put on scale of 1 to 10 when there is no set standard for such a scale. Next believe that the public will follow your verdict and judgments. Be able to write pretentious shite and believe that shite yourself.Be able to see things in the film that aren't there and the makers never put there, but you in your great wisdom have seen. In other words you are what our American cousins ( admittedly not the brightest people on gods earth) would call a bullshitter an opinion with which I fully agree with.

Davidhallparagon on Aug 25, 2011

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