On Sunday, 31 July 2011, Janice and I met Josh C., Thomas K.Y., and Thomas’ girlfriend Kai Yin at the Showcase Cinemas at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts, for Cowboys & Aliens. Jon Favreau’s western/science fiction mashup was fun, if not especially original.
Loosely based on an independent comic book, Cowboys & Aliens follows amnesiac Jake Lonergan as he finds himself caught between a small-town sheriff, an angry cattle baron, and his former band of bandits. Complicating matters is a mysterious woman who seems to know more about a manacle on his wrist than he does, a gold mine, hostile Indians, and unearthly kidnappers!
James Bond’s Daniel Craig is the laconic Lonergan, and he is supported by an all-star cast, including Keith Carradine as Sheriff Taggart, Harrison Ford as cattle baron Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde, and Tron Legacy‘s Olivia Wilde as the alluring Ella Swenson. Highlander and Superman: the Animated Series‘ Clancy Brown is preacher Meacham, Moon and Iron Man 2‘s Sam Rockwell is barkeep Doc, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee‘s Adam Beach is Native American scout Nat.
These actors elevate the film from a mere shoot-’em-up to a full-blown popcorn flick (if not at the box office, where Cowboys & Aliens tied with the unnecessary Smurfs movie). I enjoyed seeing Indiana Jones face off with James Bond and the cast and crew’s obvious enjoyment in riding horseback and blowing up alien invaders.
Just as Thor substituted Norse deities for Stargate‘s Egyptian ones, so too does Cowboys & Aliens tap into District 9‘s aliens and body horror, Unforgiven‘s gritty West, and Stargate‘s sense of adventure. Like this past spring’s Rango, which combined computer-animated talking animals with western tropes, Cowboys & Aliens is an alternate-history romp that manages to avoid the steampunk excesses of Wild, Wild West or Jonah Hex, even as it draws on the same clichés.
I’d give Cowboys & Aliens, which is rated PG-13 for violence, three out of five stars, a “B+,” or 7.5 out of 10. After his successes with Iron Man, Favreau continues to inspire confidence with his choice of workmanlike direction rather than the quirky stylings of Burton, Tarantino, del Toro, or Rodriguez. That said, the extended trailer for the sword-and-sorcery Conan the Barbarian was the only preview that was memorable.
Cowboys & Aliens reminded me of my favorite sessions of Boot Hill, Tim M.B.‘s GURPS “Arth,” Castle Falkenstein, Deadlands (arguably the best fit), and my own GURPS Steampunk/D20 Etherscope: “Gaslight Grimoire.” Back in grad school, I also ran a scenario for GURPS 3e Supers: “Visor and the Seer” using GURPS Old West involving time travel.
Coming soon: More Comic-Con roundups, games, and travel!