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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Daniel Craig
Paul Dano
Harrison Ford
Olivia Wilde
Sam Rockwell.
Directors
Jon Favreau.
Screenwriters
Alex Kurtzman
Roberto Orci
Damon Lindelof
Hawk Ostby
Mark Fergus.
Running Time
118 minutes

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Cowboys & Aliens
Man is the warmest place to Rawhide


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Plot
Arizona, 1873. A man (Craig) awakens in the sparse hinterland of one-horse town Absolution, with no memory, a weird wound and a strange manacle on one wrist. Early on his journey of self-rediscovery, he discovers he’s wanted criminal Jake Lonergan, and that he was abducted by “demons” — like so many of Absolution’s inhabitants. Together with town boss Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), he and a posse set out to free their kidnapped loved ones from the strange creatures from “above the stars”...


Review
Cowboys & Aliens
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Cowboys & Aliens is the second of two mavericks among 2011’s summer-blockbuster herd — the other being its Paramount-funded, Spielberg-produced sibling Super 8 (which, interestingly, also centres around retro-smalltown alien abduction). While based (loosely) on a comic book, Cowboys & Aliens hardly has the following Marvel-movie newcomers Thor and Captain America enjoy, and even poor old Green Lantern was a better-known title. This is neither sequel nor reboot, bravely striving for rear-ends on multiplex seats with barely any ‘brand awareness’ (ugh) and a negligible built-in audience.

It also comes as part of a distinctly dodgy subgenre: the weird Western. Wild Wild West (steampunk Western) failed big back in ’99; Jonah Hex (supernatural steampunk Western) died on its prosthetics-marred ass only last year. You’d have to go back as far as Near Dark to find a satisfying and successful example. Nope, summer 2011 seems hardly the smartest time to go West.

So here’s some good news: Cowboys & Aliens is no turkey in a ten gallon hat. Whether it finds its audience remains to be seen, but in a world where charmless robots fisting each other break box-office records, it sure deserves to. Directed by Jon Favreau, as much harking back to 2005’s overlooked Zathura as his Iron Man, the film puts its not-too-many human characters front and centre, offering a straightforward, linear plot, lean rather than bloated and which, while skipping over a few gaping holes, largely makes sense. It delivers, along the way, pleasing action sequences during which you can actually make out what’s going on — mainly because it’s not in murky, motion-blurring 3D. The visual effects meanwhile assist rather than burden the storytelling, adding to the atmosphere rather than sucking it out. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not perfect, but it’s traditional and charming, and that counts for a lot.

It also feels refreshingly unsterilised. The lead character smokes. There is a scene in which a child is given a knife as a gift, and later uses it to stab an alien to death (er, hooray for knives!). The whole thing has a gritty, sweaty, blood-smeared look, recalling the revisionist oaters of the late ’60s onwards rather than the crisper offerings of the genre’s golden age. This ain’t aliens versus Shane; it’s aliens versus The Man With No Name and The Wild Bunch.

There are also, at times, moments of horror. One scene involves a conscious woman being dissected by one of Favreau’s slimy monsters (think weaponised frog crossed with cockroach), before it incinerates her from the face down. That’s the most surprising thing about the film: it’s more gritty and harsh than the daft but enticing title suggests. Bullets, arrows, spears, teeth and claws puncture flesh with gouts of blood, wounds need sewing up and spent gun barrels sear skin. One action beat even sees an alien being messily offed by dynamite… tethered to a dagger.

As Clint-esque amnesiac bad-hat Jake Lonergan, Daniel Craig is an intense presence, laconic, simmering and brutal, a creature of bone-snapping action rather than whip-smart wit. Alongside him we have Harrison Ford’s town-bullying ranch-man who gear-shifts from leathery grump mode at the film’s start to something with a glimmer of his Dr. Jones twinkle. His occasional interjections prove welcome, including one which it’s tempting to suggest was the actor’s own reaction to the script, when it’s revealed at a campfire conflab that the green, bug-eyed interlopers are on Earth because there’s gold in that thar planet: “That’s ridiculous,” he growls, “what are they gonna do with it? Buy things?”

Even so, it’s a dour pairing, both characters defined by loss, tragedy and inky-dark pasts rather than upbeat, go-get-’em swagger. There’s none of the Iron Man films’ sense of irreverence here — just grim people dealing with a grim situation. There’s little lightness from the supporting cast, either. Olivia Wilde is a shimmering, otherworldly presence in a multi-layered yet underwritten romantic-interest role (see also: Tron Legacy), Sam Rockwell jitters and whines as a rattled barkeep and Adam Beach pines for a father-figure as one of Ford’s stooges. We’d never ask for a mugging comic-relief character to be shoe-horned in, or that everyone should play it with their tongue in their cheek, but a bit more levity from the edges would have complemented the hard core well.


Verdict
A simple entertainment in a summer of overcomplicated disappointments. Also much harder-edged than you may have expected.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Cowboys & Aliens
Empire Star Rating

RE: Cowboys & Aliens

I was very disappointed with this film. The premise sounded really awesome and the original comic upon which this was based was quite fun. But i felt very let down by the film. I agree with the above post; the colour was all fucked up. The scenes in the dark were unintelligable at times. The aliens themselves were shite. Hell E.T was more scary! hould've stuck with the comics idea of the aliens which showed them far more diverse than potrayed. In the comic it showed the lead heroine revealing h... More

Posted by Nexus Wookie at 14:29, 26 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Cowboys & Aliens

A very, very below-average sci-fi adventure. More violent than I was expecting for this sort of film, and a real mish-mash of unoriginal ideas, but...this has to have the WORST colour grading I've seen on a major fx blockbuster. I watched the BR Dir Cut and fiddled with my settings thinking it was my set up, but it's the film that's at fault. All the dark or dimly lit scenes are so contrast-free it 's like the colour grading was done by Dulux with a hand roller. Bloody awful picture qualit... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 14:08, 26 November 2012 | Report This Post


Cowboys & Aliens

It gets points for atmosphere and visuals, but that's about it. Cowboys & Aliens doesn't have enough action to be fun, nor does it have enough plot to be interesting. It's not as terrible as Wild Wild West, but it still proves that sci-fi and western do not mix well. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by norgizfox at 03:41, 11 November 2012 | Report This Post


Bland, uninteresting...no great characters...poor aliens..

Everything about this film was poor, especially when you consider the talent involved in writing/directing and acting. Not entertaining at all. I only just made it to the end without giving up. Just can't believe how below average it was. Dire! Avoid! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by discodave101 at 15:30, 25 July 2012 | Report This Post


Cowboys and Aliens

Decent film. Okay CGI. Okay acting. Wasted a bunch of great actors. No plot. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:43, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Cowboys and Aliens

Decent film. Okay CGI. Okay acting. Wasted a bunch of great actors. No plot. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:43, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Cowboys & Aliens Review

Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are as dependably appealing as ever, but they're let down by director Jon Favreau's inability to smooth Cowboys & Aliens' jarring tonal shifts. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 18:06, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Cowboys & Aliens

While the film wasn't a masterpiece, it certainly held my attention enough for me to call it entertaining. I think it could've potentially been a bit better in places, particularly in terms of it's pace, some parts felt quite slow and stretched. However this did allow the film to develope it's characters and give the veiwer some kind of connection to them. All in all an enjoyable film, but not without its flaws. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by craig888 at 16:55, 23 January 2012 | Report This Post


Stop Moaning!

just for the recored I thought I'd rate this again as I feel some people are slating it unfairly! Just because they were expecting big, dumb, loud Independance Day on horseback! It's a great little western that happens to have aliens as the bad guys instead of Indians! Plus it's great to see Ford can still cut it when it comes to action! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dannyfletch at 21:52, 19 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Solid!

Maybe I've not seen many bad films this year, but that was the most tedious 2 hours I've spent watching a film for over a year. Awful, I cant even be arsed to say why, just watch it for yourself. In fact don't. I can't even give it 1 star as there were no redeeming features in the entire film. Not one. 0/5 ... More

Posted by jonson at 07:23, 16 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Solid!

Slightly saccharine if I had to put a label on it but far from 'cringeworthy'. Perhaps tropeworthy (sic). As for the ending, I would only have been worried if they had replaced the final image of Ford with his younger self. At least someone's ventured into a fairly new genre and I think it worked superbly. May I have one of your doughnuts? ... More

Posted by Emyr Thy King at 22:11, 15 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Solid!

L: Emyr Thy King L: DARKO_DONNIE_DONUT Another good family film,with a taste of homour along the way. ense of humour you mean? I'd stop eating those doughnuts if I were you. b]There weren't any 'cringeworthy' moments in the film. Some revisiting of old tropes but nothing to make one's body shiver in protest.quote]ORIGINAL: jonson I saw "Blockbuster Blunder" and thought they were mkaing a new film about Ed Milliband! For the record, I haven't seen the film.hen again, Ed Milli... More

Posted by DARKO_DONNIE_DONUT at 20:46, 15 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Solid!

L: DARKO_DONNIE_DONUT Another good family film,with a taste of homour along the way. ense of humour you mean? I'd stop eating those doughnuts if I were you. here weren't any 'cringeworthy' moments in the film. Some revisiting of old tropes but nothing to make one's body shiver in protest. L: jonson I saw "Blockbuster Blunder" and thought they were mkaing a new film about Ed Milliband! For the record, I haven't seen the film.hen again, Ed Milliband being cast as a lone ranger ... More

Posted by Emyr Thy King at 19:46, 15 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Solid!

Having just recently seen this film I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Its not a classic in any stretch of the imagination but it is fun and exciting none the less. The acting is very good and has clear comic intentions,especially from Daniel Craig. The special effects are worth while in mixing a perfect blend of stereo-type sci-fi with a slightly less grounded Western backdrop. The plot is basic enough but does have it fair share of little twists and turns,while it also has... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DARKO_DONNIE_DONUT at 00:37, 15 January 2012 | Report This Post


Solid!

Cowboys and Aliens may not be the sci-fi spectacular that will blow you away but it is good, solid sunday afternoon entertainment. Craig and Ford work well together, the pace moves along nicley and there are some fun action scenes throughout. It is supposed to be a cross of genres but ends up being more of a western than a sci-fi spectacular but that certainly is not a bad thing. Jon Favreau plays it safe in the directors chair and it's certainly a damn sight better than Wild Wild West and Jonah... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dannyfletch at 22:35, 14 January 2012 | Report This Post


Blockbuster Blunder

I saw "Blockbuster Blunder" and thought they were mkaing a new film about Ed Milliband! the record, I haven't seen the film. ... More

Posted by jonson at 09:24, 07 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Blockbuster Blunder

I couldn't agree more on all points. ... More

Posted by Emyr Thy King at 00:38, 07 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Blockbuster Blunder

L: kenand11 With the variation in style and production cost that is making entertaining, engaging film today, its a wonder why more 'original' screen play today (obvious example..District 9), where is the creative accountability in Hollywood. sp; You use District 9 to try and further your argument about creative ingenuity, yet that film is a collage of sci-fi staples from other works. Dressing it up as a metaphor for Apartheid doesn't make it genius, it's still lazy lifting.   ... More

Posted by JohnChard at 23:35, 06 January 2012 | Report This Post


This movie really could have been incredible. Some missed opportunities here given the great cast. Ford and Rockwell weren't given much to work with. I thought Craig was perfect for this role. The first half of the movie was strong; the second half was a little ridiculous. But I suppose that should be expected of a movie called "Cowboys and Aliens". ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Turd Ferguson at 15:23, 05 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Good but not Great!

tains spoilers] I quite liked the film, I don't understand why some have a problem with it. I was quite surprised by Sam Rockwell and Harrison Ford in particular. He managed to show emotion through quite a stern and hard character. Daniel Craig was quite good but he's more of the silent man of the piece. His emotion and state of mind expressed through the violence he dispenses rather than any meaningful dialogue. I agree with avreau does a great job of portraying the old west. Dirty, bruta... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Emyr Thy King at 14:28, 05 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Good but not Great!

Just caught this on rental and like Green Lantern I don't really get the negativity towards it. GL wasn't a good film but it wasn't the war crime a lot of people were labelling it as and C&A was nowhere near as bad as I'd read. Again I wouldn't say it's a particularly good film as such as it's a bit half baked and had no real surprises but I thought it was a serviceable enough sci-fi/action film with some good characters and sequences. I enjoyed the western mashup with Jon Favreau doing a ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Marwood at 11:32, 05 January 2012 | Report This Post


Good but not Great!

In comparison to the other blockbusters out last summer (Thor, Captain America, Transformers and X-Men), personally I thought it was better than all of them. Its very watchable and highly inoffensive . I actually thought Craig was OK for once and its pretty hard to knock Ford. The effects were a bit naff at times but that be said I enjoyed watching this and if you have a spare 2 hrs, id recommend it............plus Olivia Wilde is epic! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 09:34, 04 January 2012 | Report This Post


Better than the rest

Cowboys and Aliens is no Inception, but up against Captain America and Thor this stands out as the best blockbuster of the summer. Not shying away from good old fashioned adventure and peril, C&A has more touches of the blockbusters of old than all the other overly kid-friendly tent-pole movies out this year. Ignore the plot-holes and suspend some disbelief and just enjoy this unique take on a sci-fi movie. Plus it was great to see Harrison Ford back doing what he does best. It's Starship Tr... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by gregthurston at 21:43, 13 December 2011 | Report This Post


Cowboys & ZZZZZzzzzzzz

The big names barely carry this along, disappointing stuff from Favreau. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by andee90 at 18:47, 24 November 2011 | Report This Post


Surprisingly good

I actually was pretty skeptical when I first saw the preview for this film. But I'm familiar with the actress Ana de la Reguera from the series Capadocia that she plays in and she does a phenomenal job with both characters. If you liked Ana in Cowboys and Aliens you should definitely check out Capadocia <a href="http://hbomax.tv/hbo-la/capadocia">C apadocia</a> she's amazing in it! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kimberly9 at 18:49, 17 November 2011 | Report This Post


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