Category Archives: Sci-fi
Geeks owe a lot to Bryan Singer. In the wake of campy, bloated superhero disasters like Batman & Robin, Singer almost single-handedly saved comic-book film adaptations with his serious take on the X-Men in 2000. The success of that film led to a resurgance in dark, faithful superhero flicks like Singer’s own X-2, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and the current spate of Marvel comics heroes like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. But Singer’s reputation took a hit with the less than action-packed, “emo” Superman Returns in 2006, and he’s been trying to rebuild his cache as a geek-favorite genre director ever since. He’s recently completed work on an epic re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale called Jack The Giant Killer, and now that his Excalibur remake has been shitcanned by Warner Brothers, he’s turned his attention back full-time to making a feature film version of…well…let’s just hear it from Singer himself:
Holy balls. Hot on the heels of some Underworld news that no one gives a shit about, comes this stunning headline from Deadline. Apparently Ridley Scott has signed on to direct either a prequel or a sequel to his game-changing, influential sci-fi noir masterpiece, Blade Runner. The film could possibly explore the Replican revolution mentioned in the 1982 film, or follow a storyline that takes place after the Rick Deckard adventure.
I think there could be one of two scenarios playing out here: Either A.), Ridley Scott is feeling nostalgic for his old sci-fi properties like Alien and Blade Runner as a result of working on the (sort of) prequel to Alien, Prometheus, and is looking to return to that type of era-defining material again. Or B.), Ridley’s gone completely bugnuts berzerk (he recently stated he would never shoot in 2D again, and is attached to direct a film based on the board game Monopoly), and wants to continue to shit all over his legacy by plastering the screen with chestbursters popping out at the audience in 3D, or vertigo-inducing shots of “spinners” decending into the neon steel canyons of dystopian Los Angeles. Either way, I’m sure Michael Fassbender is going to be involved somehow. That guy’s in everything.
Back in the brutal cold of winter, when the promise of warm summer nights spent basking in the glow of countless blockbuster explosions and superhero battles felt like nothing more than a distant dream, a trailer for one of those far off event films played at my local multiplex. It was chock full of everything summer blockbuster audiences flock to: Directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau! Dazzling explosions! Spaceships! Gunfights! Laser Blasts! Seat-rattling sound effects! And most importantly, James Bond and Indiana Jones together in one movie! An epic western mixed with an alien invasion! Then, the title card came up – “Cowboys & Aliens”.
As the text faded from the screen, something about the combination of those words caused the audience I was with to chuckle and snicker. I knew right there that the mainstream audience wasn’t sold and the film was doomed. In a Summer already packed to the rafters with big-ticket sequels, giant robots, and more superheroes than you could shake a power ring at, this movie with the blunt yet high-concept title was going to get lost in the shuffle. I however, held out hope that it would still be an awesome combination of Daniel Craig pseudo “man-with-no-name” bad-assery and Alien-level extra-terrestrial menace. Unfortunately, while it’s heads and shoulders above similar Old-west meets technology disasters like Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex, Cowboys & Aliens is a mildly entertaining clash of clichés rather than a compelling mixture of genres.
The plot is set in motion when outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakens in the desert with no memory of who he is, and a strange alien weapon strapped to his wrist. He eventually makes his way to the town of Absolution, a small mining community that barely survives thanks to the cattle trade lorded over by the fearsome former war hero Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). After getting into some trouble in town, Lonergan runs into the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde), and is taken into custody by sheriff Taggert (Keith Carradine). However, before Lonergan can be delivered to Federal Marshalls, Dolarhyde rides into town and demands Jake’s head for robbing him of some gold bullion. At this point, alien spaceships appear in the night sky, snatching townsfolk with high-tension ropes. After the attack, Lonergan and Dolarhyde band together with the survivors to track down the aliens and rescue their captured loved ones.
With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, one would expect the aliens to be a unique and frightening presence in the film, but once again, we are subjected to generic grunting creatures in the ID4/Battle L.A./Cloverfield mold that do not communicate their motives or intentions to the humans at all. We know nothing about them other than what a key character reveals about them late in the movie in an out-of-nowhere exposition dump. They also happen to be inexplicably dim-witted for such an advanced species.
For instance, why does a technologically advanced alien race come to Earth and capture humans one by one with simple wires shot from their ships? Do they not have tractor beams or transporter technology? Why not simply fly over the town in the giant ship, capture as many humans as needed, then annihilate the rest of the entire town? Why engage the inferior humans in hand-to-hand combat on the ground when you could simply rain laser beams down upon them? I understand that in order to make it seem believable that a technologically inferior race has a fighting chance against the monsters some liberties must be taken, but these plot holes are just a little too nonsensical to overlook.
Despite being populated by stock western characters like the badass drifter, the vicious cattle baron, the honorable sheriff, the bumbling saloon owner, the beautiful prairie woman, the obligatory black-toothed outlaw gang, and of course a tribe of stereotypical hootin’ and peyote-pushin Apache Indians, The classic western aspect of the film is its strong point. But considering how ineptly handled the aliens are, unfortunately that’s not saying much.
Harrison Ford is eminently watchable as always, even though he lays the “surly cattle rancher” shtick on a bit too thick at times. Daniel Craig is captivating in his usual steely eyed way, dismantling humans and aliens alike with a graceful brutality. Sadly, it’s a one-note role that never develops much of an arc. Olivia Wilde, who manages to make a frumpy prairie dress look impossibly hot, spends most of the film spouting the exposition necessary to help Lonergan regain his memory and get the audience up to speed on his fairly predictable back story. Veteran faces like Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, and Sam Rockwell do the best they can with the so-so dialogue that their old-west ciphers spout in between the explosions.
Jon Favreau continues to lose steam as a big summer blockbuster director. Continuing a trend that has only gotten worse since the second half of the first Iron Man film, Favreau drops the ball when it comes to delivering truly spectacular action sequences that have a sense of danger for the characters involved. Although Cowboys & Aliens is competently shot and has a decent narrative structure, it’s ultimately pulled down by clichéd dialogue and a flat screenplay that surprisingly took five screenwriters to produce.
Cowboys & Aliens promises an intriguing mash-up of two successful genres, but delivers only an adequate summer diversion, nothing more. The whole thing sort of stays on an even keel, shuffling along like a drifter on horseback who sticks to the safe main path and never deviates into unknown frontiers. It’s shame, there might have been more satisfying adventures off in the caves and valleys.
There have been several trailers and featurettes for this upcoming genre-mashing Jon Favreau flick, but are any of them really necessary? In all honesty, you’re either going to see a movie called Cowboys & Aliens, or you aren’t. It’s just that simple. The film is out in theaters on July 29.