Arizona, 1873. Jake Lonergan (Craig) doesn’t remember anything. He doesn’t know that he is a wanted man, he doesn’t know that he is on the outskirts of a town run by ruthless landowner Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), and he certainly doesn’t know how this damn extraterrestrial bracelet got shackled to his wrist. He doesn’t know that he shouldn’t be talking back to the pistol-wielding town drunk (Dano) because he is Dolarhyde’s heir, and he doesn’t know why the doe-eyed beauty at the bar (Wilde) is so desperate to know where he came from. Jake’s amnesia is getting him into a whole world of trouble, and then an alien strike-force descends and plunges into troubles further still.
That’s right, it turns out New Yorkers weren’t the only impatient alien species invading the Wild West during the nineteenth century in search of gold. This brutal species carpet bombs the frontier town and lassoes innocent men, women and children before disappearing into the night. With so powerful a common enemy, Lonergan and Dolarhyde’s conflict pales into insignificance; along with the remaining townsmen and Ella (the mysterious beauty from the bar) they race off in pursuit of the alien base, hoping to recover their loved ones.
Just in case anybody is still uncertain, we really are talking about actual aliens here. This isn’t about a gang of Mexican’s crossing the border; these are the sort of aliens that man, even a century later, was unable to destroy without the help of a suicidally drunk Randy Quaid. So how does Favreau get around the obvious imbalance of power? Well his previous masterpieces (the Iron Man dilogy) should point the way to the disappointing answer: man is boring and worthless, but stick a futuristic machine on his body and he can be a hero. Jake’s mysterious bracelet, which blows up aliens when they get too close, is the humans’ only weapon throughout the entire film. Unsurprisingly, this one simple device gets old pretty quickly, but Favreau never attempts to escalate the conflict by finding a new and interesting way for the cowboys to fight the aliens. So in much the same way that Transformers is essentially a robot war with a few humans stumbling around trying to get laid; this film should really have been called Alien Bracelet Vs. Aliens…With Some Cowboys Falling Off Their Horses.
Disappointing conflicts aside, there is actually something in the tone of this film that commends it. After all, who doesn’t love a film set in the Wild West with Harrison Ford on the team? The cinematography is often exquisite, and the central performances are solid throughout. You can’t ask for much more than 007 and Indiana Jones for a central duo; and Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde round of the palette beautifully. The aliens are mysterious and eerie while they stick to aerial attacks; but when we meet them up-close-and-personal it is a shame to see how anthropomorphic the animation team have gone. All-in-all, an average disaster movie with just enough heart and production quality to justify the theatre entry price.