I like a lot of really bad movies. Movies that are so bad they actually force me to examine my life choices and rationale behind why I think a movie called Mega Python vs Gatoroid is going to be worth my time (answer: it has Debbie Gibson and Tiffany in it.). It's easy to watch bad movies because it's fun to tear into them with friends afterward and dissect them like the hidden meaning of Pink Floyd lyrics (answer: drugs). What's much more difficult to discuss are movies that are just... good. Middle of the road, perfectly satisfactory movies that don't stick out, one way or the other. Cowboys & Aliens fits this model perfectly. It made me smile and has several exhilarating action sequences that wrap you up in the spirit of the picture, but it feels like it could have been so much more and I know it will be completely forgotten in outside of a week.
The first 30 minutes or so really build this movie into what looks to be the ultimate genre mash-up. Science fiction meets western? I haven't seen that since Oblivion did it in 1994. Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Sam Rockwell, Walton Goggins, Olivia Wilde and Clancy Brown all in a movie together? Let me get some of that! And once I did, it was all nice and polite and friendly and made me want to go to summer camp with everyone so we would have a swell place to make macaroni necklaces and ride horses together. The first act really makes you think you're in for something one of a kind, something original and maybe a little dangerous. It's violent and edgy and stirs up dreams that the film might be Deadwood meets War of the Worlds, but it's more like Gunsmoke meets Stargate SG-1, very safe and predictable. In other words, it's your typical summer blockbuster in a summer that's been nothing if not typical.
I know I'm going to be in the minority in my opinion on this one. Most of the people who were hanging around the auditorium after the film ended were talking about how much they loved the film because of Harrison Ford and the sweet effects. They're not wrong, either. The special effects are fantastic and the design for the aliens is classic without feeling redundant. It's... good. Harrison Ford has a spark in his eyes that I haven't seen for years and he seems engaged with the lines he's growling. He's not doing Last Crusade or even Air Force One quality work here, but it's certainly better than the crap he's been phoning in the last couple of years. It's all just so flawlessly... good.
I know I'm belaboring the point, but only because I think we deserve better. When a cast like this combines for a movie it shouldn't be serviceable, it should be epic and unforgettable. When a geek-friendly director gets his hands on a comic book property (the film is based on a graphic novel of the same title) that's ripe for translation to the big screen, it should be exciting and not just decent. There are several badass moments in this movie (mostly dished out by Daniel Craig), but we deserve every minute to be badass (intermittently interrupted by Olivia Wilde's hotness and Clancy Brown's ownership of all things awesome, of course). Instead, we get a perfectly decent popcorn flick.
Am I delusional in thinking that every movie has the chance to be the next Pulp Fiction or Fight Club? Does every single movie have to strive for excellence and originality? No, no they don't (although if you're budget is north of $150 million, then it might be nice). The only thing Mega Python vs. Gatoroid is striving for is a chance to make us love it. Cowboys & Aliens already assumes we do because of its premise and stars and that is its biggest flaw. It wants its cult status without earning it. It almost makes it there, but is hamstringed by its complete and utter averageness.
Cowboys & Aliens
Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Walton Goggins and Keith Carradine.
Directed by Jon Favreau.