Cowboys and Aliens is an absurdist pastiche of overused action movie tropes (Bourne in the old west! With aliens!), which is occasionally compelling, if only for the sheer audacity of plot choices. That is to say, it’s ridiculous. And I’m a big fan of the ridiculous (see also: Lieutenant, Bad; Werner Herzog version of). I just wish Cowboys and Aliens‘ preposterousness wasn’t so couched in pre-fabricated stories and characters. It’s a lot like Lost, but even black smoke monsters and polar bears seemed more fresh than Cowboys, Indians, aliens, rocket hands, and amnesia. It plays like a producer brainstorming session that never got edited, which makes it all the more shocking that no one turns out to be a vampire or a hot cyborg lesbian (spoiler alert).
It’s hard to believe Lost exec producer Damon Lindelof had five co-writers, because the whole thing reeks of black smoke musk, from the character daddy issues driving every single plot point right down to the fat-faced kid with a dog who seems totally unnecessary to the plot. I imagine the writers meeting went something like this:
Alex Kurtzman: Cowboys!
Robert Orci: Indians! Aliens! James Bond! Indiana Jones–
Steve Oedekirk: (*loud gurgle, extended fart sound followed by terrible stench. the rest of the gang rolls his wheelchair outside before continuing*)
Lindelof: Amnesia! Religious themes! Re-incarnation–
Iron Man writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby: [together] ROCKET HANDS! (*they smash their beer steins together, down the rest, and stomp off like the Bushwhackers*)
The film opens on Daniel Craig’s pouty upper lip as he takes a siesta in the desert. …But SOON it’s OTHERS who’ll be taking a DIRT NAP! (see what I did there?) He’s awoken by a group of serious-looking cowboys carrying scalps and spitting tobacco, and they ask him who he is and what’s his story — all friendly-like at first. He was just sleeping in the desert after all, maybe we could call his mom? “Maybe he’s retarded,” they muse, when the pouty-lipped drifter doesn’t answer or acknowledge them at all. Then, before you know it, Daniel Craig has stolen the leader’s rifle, blown the f*ck out of two of them, and beaten the last guy to death with his bare hands.
This will be our movie’s protagonist.
Nothing wrong with having a sociopath as your hero (I kind of like it, actually), but Cowboys & Aliens instead follows the old Lost pattern where a character who’s a cartoonish villain in one scene can be a cartoonish hero in the next, and if you expect there to be some resolution of this at the end, you obviously have never seen Lost. “Yeah, I was unstuck in time for a while, but these days I mostly fight vampires and daydream about my abusive father.”