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You'd think with a film called Cowboys & Aliens there'd be very little room to mess things up. I mean, how much more straight-forward can you get? Just get some cowboys, a bunch of aliens...voila!

And yet Cowboys & Aliens doesn't quite get there...

Now don't get me wrong: it's a decent film and I really enjoyed it. But alas it falls just short, like all the other summer blockbusters we were treated to this year, of being actually awesome. Which is pretty frustrating as, much like Super 8 and Horrible Bosses, they had the material and everything served up to them on a plate. All they had to do was not spill anything!

Here's the thing, it's really quite simple: if you're going for something purely retro like an 80's Spielberg flick or a cowboy sci-fi in the style of Westworld it's your DUTY as a filmmaker to leave the CGI out of it as much as you can. Yes stop-motion monsters can look animated but so does CGI and at the very least stop-motion has texture to it and isn't constantly smooth! There's something about a CGI alien in a self-branded retro film that just screams lazy to me. To be fair, some practical effects were used here and guess what...they were the best effects!!!


On the plus side, the cowboy stuff is very well done here: gritty, stylish, lovingly cliched, it's all good. Harrison Ford occasionally becomes a cartoon but in a good way and gives us his best, most fun role in many, MANY years. Daniel Craig makes a fine action hero and although his American accent is all over the place, he makes it work nonetheless. Strong support is offered by the likes of Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, both great in pretty much anything. Olivia Wilde however feels like the unlikeliest thing in the whole film (a film with cowboys and aliens btw). She's like a soulless, charmless Keira Knightley robot and whenever she's onscreen you just lose faith in her character. A twist involving her also jumps the shark big time as we reluctantly leave gritty western territory for Avatar/Disney-style magic bull****. Grrrr...

It could have been so great.

Contrarily to Super 8 though, I have to give Cowboys & Aliens credit for at least giving their aliens an interesting-enough design. I know so far this sounds like a predominantly negative review but that's only because the version in my head is so much better. I did enjoy Cowboys & Aliens: good characters, good action scenes, a fun premise. It's a very entertaining film and a welcome addition to this summer. It's just not...amazing.

Bottom line is: CGI aliens are anything. Please, filmmakers everywhere, understand that or lay off the retro!

Not bad.

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