July 28, 2011


Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens is the equivalent of putting chocolate and peanut butter together and getting a rice cake.  Westerns can be great, sci-fi can be wonderful, and yet the attempt to bring them together has resulted in a bland, flavorless movie.  The script is a mess, all of the storylines are uninteresting, the action is flat, there’s not much room for lead actors Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford to do much beyond growl and grimace, and the usually inspired cinematography of Matthew Libatique is a grand disappointment.  Despite all of these problems, the movie does nothing outright offensive other than waste two hours of your time.

A stranger (Craig) wakes up in the desert with no memory of who he is and odd bracelet shackled around his wrist.  A group of bandits pass by, see his bracelet, assume he’s an escaped convict and try to bring him in to collect on the bounty.  The stranger may not know his own name, but he still remembers how to kick ass and he easily kills his three would-be captors, takes their weapons and clothes, and rides to the nearest town, Absolution.  It’s the best scene in the movie and it gets your hopes up for a much better film that never happens.


We eventually learn that the stranger is the outlaw Jake Lonergan.  He’s captured in Absolution and about to be sent to a federal courthouse when the town is attacked by aliens and most of its people are abducted.  Lonergan is able to take down one of the ships with his bracelet-cannon and the following morning he goes after the aliens so he can find some answers.  A group of the townspeople come along to rescue their kin.  Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) wants his dipshit son (Paul Dano) back, Doc (Sam Rockwell) is going after his wife (Ana de la Reguera), a little kid (Noah Ringer) wants to rescue his grandpa/the town’s sheriff (Keith Carradine), and a mysterious woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) also joins the posse.

That’s five storylines and none of them are particularly interesting.  Part of the problem is that we hardly learn anything about the characters and they rarely interact with each other.  There’s no banter, there’s no complex relationships, and while they may share scenes, they hardly ever speak to each other.  It’s the most basic screenwriting the nine writers credited to the film could muster: here’s what these characters want (and Lonergan’s motives become nebulous by the third act).  No one bothered to make you care and no one considered nixing a couple of the storylines so we could invest in a smaller group of characters.


But that’s just part of the script’s many problems.  No one seems to understand the tropes of either genre beyond “Cowboys wear Stetsons and ride horses, Aliens have spaceships and use futuristic weapons.”  There’s no real attempt to have the genres interact in a meaningful way beyond “Look at how technology changes the relationship between the conqueror and the conquered.”  The story even goes so far as to reveal that the aliens are after our gold.  But for the analogy to hold true, it would mean that a single Native American armed only with one rifle could have taken down the first European settlers.

More problematic is that the aliens’ motives and our characters’ understanding of the aliens changes from scene to scene.  We eventually learn that the aliens are abducting humans so they can study us and learn our weaknesses before beginning the real invasion.  But their ship is still mining gold.  Are the aliens just thoughtful multi-taskers who figure “Hey, as long as we’re on this science expedition, may as well get some gold in dem dar hills.”  Later on, a character says that the best way to fight the aliens is to draw them out into broad daylight since they’re subterranean creatures.  When the aliens come outside to fight the humans, they seem to have no problem fighting in the daytime and the proceeding battle shows the humans struggling to defeat the creatures.  Oddly, bullets don’t do much but a well timed charge with a wooden spear seems to do the trick.


Favreau looked like he was improving his staging of set pieces with Iron Man 2, but Cowboys & Aliens is a big step back.  The climactic battle is repetitive, only one of the big alien kills is worth celebrating (and it’s telegraphed so obviously throughout the film that it’s not much of a surprise), and Lonergan’s big fight against multiple aliens is dreadfully static and woefully underwhelming considering he’s the film’s “hero”.

The excitement is further diminished by Libatique’s disastrous cinematography.  Libatique has done some gorgeous films in the past but his work on Cowboys & Aliens is trying to blend the visual hallmarks of western and sci-fi but he fails to achieve either.  Rather than soak in beautiful vistas, the colors are blown out and the sci-fi is the sweaty, “realistic” grime of a spaceship we’ve seen for decades.  Matters are made worse by the stinginess of close-ups thus creating even more distance from characters we don’t particularly care about.


All of these factors make it difficult to blame any of the actors for their one-dimensional performances.  What’s confusing is that no one except for Rockwell and co-star Walton Goggins—who plays a member of Lonergan’s old gang—look like they’re having any fun.  That makes sense for a grumpy character like Dolarhyde and at least Ford appears invested in the role.  At multiple times during the film I wish the script had been carved down to just Dolarhyde’s quest to retrieve his biological son while accompanied by his two surrogate sons, the kid and the Native American he adopted years ago (Adam Beach).  Instead we get awkward scenes where characters just recite their back-stories to each other and Dolarhyde stiffly gives the kid a knife with the unspoken agreement “You’ll use this in the third act to kill an alien.”

I’ve gone on about the film’s faults for almost two pages and yet I could keep going about the film’s numerous problems but perhaps its greatest advantage is that I just didn’t care about anything.  The movie ran at 24 frames-per-second, it ran for about two hours, and nothing in it aroused positive or negative feelings in me.  It was simply there and while I could see its many flaws, the tone is so muddled and unenthusiastic that at most I felt like I was part of a half-assed experiment, came to the conclusion that it didn’t work out, and now was the time to grab a Reese’s peanut-butter cup.

Rating: D


  • Nick

    well that wasn’t surprising at all.

  • Anonymous

    I highly disagree! I think that bringing the cowboys, with their weak guns and kick-ass confidence mixed with the extremely high intelligence and impressively advance weaponry resulted in an interesting story as to what their plan was for how they were going to succeed their goal. So, in other words, it’s like mixing chocolate with peanut butter and getting fillet mignon.

  • rocky

    Yeah I think I may wait for this to hit the home market. The commercials, clips and trailers never grabbed me or piqued my interest in any way. I guess I am as ambivalent as Matt so probably won’t bother.

    I think may go see Capt America again, not so much because it was great but because it’s the movie I’ve been waiting for a good portion of my life :)

  • charlie

    i was very excited when i saw the first teaser but since i saw the trailers and commercials,my expectations became very low

  • chuck

    This is one of those films thats getting a highly split reaction from reviewers. One either really digs it or thinks it flat and dead on arrival.

  • chuck

    Watch Richard Roepers review- Its like he saw a totally different movie. He loved it as did Roger Ebert. Again strange overall reaction from reviewers so far.

  • jymmymack

    I have to agree with Matt on this one. Saw it a few days ago and was severely disappointed. To put it plainly, it was boring and tedious. If you think this is filet mignon, I’d hate to see what you think pigslop was.

  • Rohan

    Nice review, Matt.

    But one thing is for sure though, Matt gave an quasi-inteview prior to the release of TRANSFORMERS: Dark Of The Moon. I think when he was with Steve from Matt saw the footage of TRANSFORMERS 3 when Michael Bay showed it.

    Matt stated… IT WAS MIND BLOWING. AWESOME. He praised it like it was some kind of a movie made by a God. And, Matt from Collider said that based on what he saw in the clip only. I liked Transformers 3, but it was not really all that. Now, should I really believe in this review of him? — I don’t think so, Matt. I know you are doing your job, but you Transformers 3 alot. It was so AWESOME!!!

  • Farzan

    Still going to see it tomorrow night with a bunch of friends. Its Bond and Indy fighting Aliens. Who wouldn’t want to see this? Besides, I bet its a million times better than any of the Transformers movies. Most of the critics I respect said it was fun and entertaining with obviously some faults.

  • mark tornits

    “staging of set pieces with Iron Man 2″

    yeah, they are a disaster in Iron Man 2 also- the end of iron man 2 = the end of the incredible hulk- just cgi blobs running into each other-

  • Terry

    I heard there were 6 screen writers on this thing. WTF!! You know something ain’t right.

  • Geo

    I’ve never seen such wildly divergent reviews on a big summer movie. Seems like critics so far either love this (See Roger Ebert and The Washington Post web sites for examples) or sound almost disgusted by it (CNN’s review was as harsh as Collider’s). :)

    Is Collider going to post a review of Captain America? Which I loved, was just interested in Collider’s take on it.

  • Geo

    Never seen such wildly divergent reviews on a big summer movie. Most seem to either really like it (see the Roger Ebert or Washington Post online reviews for examples), or be almost angry about how bad they think it is (CNN’s review is as harsh as Collider’s).

    I try to tell people on forums, a reviewer isn’t predicting if YOU will like something. All they can do is share how he or she responded or didn’t respond to something, and explain why.

    Is Collider posting a Captain America review at some point? I enjoyed the feature interviews here on Cap and loved the movie, it just seems like Collider forgot to have someone review it. :)

  • Bill Graham

    I don’t know if Matt even saw the film before landing in San Diego. My screening was Wednesday night, the same night I left for Con. We also don’t post reviews after a major release unless some extreme case comes up.

  • Bill Graham

    This is in reference to our lack of a CAPTAIN AMERICA review^^

    • MrRich316

      I dig that you fine fellows were busy with SDCC, but as a fan of Collider ,I would have liked to have read your guys’ thoughts on Cap. Both the film as a stand alone and how well you think it ties into the rest of the Avenger’s universe. Maybe if you have some downtime you might consider it ?

      • HYPNO TOAD


  • FILMfan

    Review aside, I’m still going to catch this flick.

    Jon Favreau is a great director, and just an all-around cool person.

    If there are any flaws in the film, blame Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. How these guys continue to get work is one of life’s great mysteries, IMO.

  • BruceOville

    Thanks for the review. Was a toss up between seeing this and Capt. America this weekend and you helped make up my mind.

    Back to WWII it is…

  • dryer

    The biggest problem with this film is its just not fun. You’d think with all the big names behind the project, something would catch a spark but its just a dull romp through the wild west once we past the 45 minute mark. Though its nice to see Ford back out of the rut and in the “no pun intended” saddle giving us the reluctant crumudgen anti-hero we’ve known to love.

  • junierizzle

    I agree with Matt from time to time. I agree with him on this one.

  • Jim Wagner

    A total disappointment except for beautiful outdoor scenes and excellent acting by Harrison Ford. This film had so much possibility as an excellent western with a hint of aliens. Instead, it was a total mish mosh of cowboys, indians, mexicans, aliens, love interest, outdoor scenes, indoor spacecraft scenes. It left me feeling totally disappointed because it was over-produced. Daniel Craig may be a movie star but doesn’t come across as a cowboy. Harrison Ford saved the film with his brilliant acting but the film still comes up short by a mile. Overall, an over-produced money venture that has no lasting value of any kind. I’ve never seen a film where the concept was to throw in as much as possible hoping it will all turn out. It didn’t. It was laughable at times. Should have been 90% quality western with hint of aliens. But once again, Hollywood misses the mark totally. I do not recommend this film.

    • Steven C

      You got it exactly right. I’ll add that it indeed have laughs but in final analysis the movie was overdone. Once again ( Jurassic Park, that L.A. invasion movie, etc ) explosions are all over the place but keep missing main characters. Some woman who amazingly knows exactly how to use a bracelet and destroy the aliens’ ship.
      Powerful creatures about to kill a hero but inexplicably make their last moves in slow motion thereby allowing someone to stop the alien. Surprise occurrences of this or that through the movie were at first intriguing but became tiresome.

      I don’t know how Hollywood so often turns out such inferior products.
      I think it’s like driving: a 16 year-old can get a driving license.
      Apparently the same is true in films; juveniles with a little money and connections can easily put out a movie.

    • Jenny

      I couldn’t help but lol at this quote “Instead, it was a total mish mosh of cowboys, indians, mexicans, aliens, love interest, outdoor scenes, indoor spacecraft scenes”

      Imagine that .. a movie called COWBOYS and ALIENS having scenes with cowboys, indians, love, and spacecraft scenes .. that is SO SHOCKING!

      That’s like going to a movie called “Life inside of a box” and writing a review saying “I didn’t expect there to be scenes inside of a box … so dissapointing!”

  • MainFragger

    I might be confused, I keep hearing people saying its boring till the aliens show up (like 15 minutes into the film) and that it has too many people to keep track of. And that they can’t figure out who the chick she one of us, or one of them? I guess in this time of an ADD society no one actually pays attention to anything. So

    Spoilers…if you don’t want to know..skip my post…

    She is an alien…but she isn’t one of them…she’s another species..She explains this just after she dies and gets ressurected like a Phoenix. She explains her motives are to make sure what happend to her world doesn’t happen to ours..this is in the movie folks! So do half the review I saw seem confused about it. I find all these bad reviews a reflection of the downgrade of our society, not any errors on the film makers part. I didn’t see any problems with the movie..

    The scenery was great. The main character didn’t have much of a personality because he can’t remember who he is. But he steps cut him some slack. Harrison Ford proves he still has it. If anything, I almost wonder why he’d waste his acting talents on a cgi laden sci-fi film like this..I call that work ethic! The aliens were actually interesting and a real threat. (For Green Lantern fans, the remind me a little of Atrocitus.) For some reason critics address the gold mining and the human captives as seperate plotlines..they are not.. They came for our gold, don’t want to share with us, so they are figuring out the cheapest and easiest way to get rid of us by testing our limits…like the Nazis did.. Got it? Good. Don’t listen to the critics..they are full of it. Its a simple idea…Cowboys facing off against Aliens.. And I think it worked pretty well. And it didn’t pull any punches. I liked it, and reviewers are entitled to thier opinion..but I don’t agree with the ones that didn’t like it.

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  • Lori

    Cowboys and Aliens a great summer movie! I really enjoyed this !!
    Harroson Ford and Daniel Craig were great!!!.You gotta love it I mean Cowboys and Aliens,why not. I would see it again!

  • Lori

    Cowboys and Aliens,A great summer movie,fun for the whole family! Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig were great!!come on why not Cowboys vs Aliens? I would see it again!!!

  • April

    I loved this movie! I literally have not gone to see a movie in over a year. I can’t stand sitting through the commericals they have before movies now .. I’d rather just wait for it to come on netflix … so this is the first movie that made me want to go back to the theater! I had to wait A HALF HOUR before the commericals stopped and the movie started … by then I just wanted to go home because I had been there so long dong nothing .. but then BAM as soon as the movie started I loved it! Ah, I’m so happy I went and saw that! So fun! can’t understand people who don’t like it. The movie is called cowboys and aliens .. what were you expecting ?? hello! it has cowboys .. it has aliens … if you want that .. there it is !!

  • Jim Wagner

    Well Jenny, I guess you didn’t understand what I was saying from a professional standpoint. I’m glad that Steven C did. The truth is,
    I wandered into the new Steve Carell film after being so disappointed with Cowboys and Aliens and it was a much better film although in a different genre. No comparison in terms of walking out feeling that you saw something worthwhile. Outside of the outdoor scenes and Harrison Ford’s acting, there was absolutely nothing in this film of any value. If you talked to Harrison, I believe he would tell you the film overall was an embarrassment. If not for the outdoor scenes and his acting ability, the film would be considered a total blunder except for the money it made. You’re sharp Steven C. I wonder if you’re in the entertainment business.

    • Jenny

      Oh, you wrote a bad review that makes no sense and it’s my fault for not understanding from a professional standpoint. I see. Weird thing is almost everybody agrees, even people who didn’t like the movie, that DC made a great cowboy, but you said he didn’t.

      People who have not scene this movie … look at the title. It’s called cowboys & aliens. That is what will be in the movie. It’s not going to be an award winning movie. It’s a movie with cowboy scenes and alien scenes … the title is not misleading. It’s going to be cheesy and fun. I really don’t know what people are expecting / thinking.

      This is like going into a movie called “talking pancakes” and being surprised that it’s not an award winning movie. The title says what it’s going to be like.

      I’m SO glad there is finally a movie out there with an origional idea! ESPECIALLY after having the movies “no strings attatched” and “friends with benefits” being out … AND out at the same time. Hollywood is the same thing over and over and over and over .. finally something different !!!

  • Jim Wagner

    Steven C, let me add this. I have been around a long time in the entertainment business. It is unfortunate that the overall quality of film and music have become so inferior to what we had in the past. It’s only about money these days and we are the lesser for it.

  • charly

    What the hell happened.
    2 Hollywood blockbuster movie stars delivering uninspired flat dialogue. Big money, big productions, big names do not necessary make good movies – this one was a good example for it.

  • Jim Wagner

    Oh Jenny . . . I can’t spar back and forth with you. A film called “Cowboys and Aliens” had every possibility of being an award winning film. You got it right Charly. I’m out.

  • Terry

    Crap movie. John Favreau has hit a new fucking low. And you thought, well at least I thought so, that Iron Man 2 was maggot infested shit on a stick. This movie is just dumb. Olivia Wilde is nothing but a fucking plot tool.
    Put it this way, it is a story looking for itself. No wonder there were 6 goddamn writers on this flick. Jesus!
    And the Space Ghost bracelet Graig wears seems to only work when the aliens are nearby however during the 3rd act Wilde tells him that he really controls the bracelet with his mind. Hm. He wasn’t doing that shit in act 1 and 2. Of course not!!!!!!!! He would have been bar b qing the baddies from the get go thereby eliminating strategically placed threats. Sometimes our protagonist has to be at the mercy of an antagonist to create drama and or to deliver key expositions. Although there is a scene where the bracelet does activate when there seems to be “A NO WAY OUT” with some outlaws. But that was used to drive us from the 2nd act to the 3rd.
    Cinematography was washed out except for some cut scenes. Those were high def.
    Sound was awesome(the roar of the alien’s little fighter planes as they flew across the sky could rip your chest open) and the acting good.
    Fuck this film.
    Bring on the Dark Knight Rises!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Pants

    After watching Craptain America the night before, I actually liked this movie. Compared to each other, “Cowboys” is an Academy Award winner.

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