I'd forgotten how much I missed Harrison Ford. When he makes his first appearance in Cowboys & Aliens to punish an incompetent ranch hand, people applauded. A girl next to me swooned, which I didn't know was possible to do in a movie-theater seat.
In the '70s, Ford helped invent the Hollywood summer blockbuster with his part in Star Wars. But if I try and fit my image of the young Han Solo into the last decade of action films, I have a hard time finding a place for him.
His last Indiana Jones co-star Shia Labeouf, however, is everywhere. There, I think, is the problem. Young Harrison Ford still carried himself like an adult, and Shia LaBeouf comes off like a kid, and will probably stay that way well into his 30s. We don't have men actors anymore; we have boy actors.
I hate to think what that will lead to. Woe to the generation that has no Robert Mitchum.
One of the charms of Cowboys & Aliens is that every single character is an adult, which is just one way the film is defiantly old-school. Some critics will trash the movie as having cliche character, or using worn Western stereotypes, or as being as preposterous as every B-movie that plays on SyFy. All of that's true, but so what? Sometimes stories are better because they embrace their roots. And Cowboys & Aliens makes its intentions clear from the title alone. All that matters is that when it employs the cliches, it does so with style.
Who among you will watch Harrison Ford shoot out a monster's football-sized eyeballs as the Cherokee nation swoops down around him firing arrows and throwing spears at an intergalactic spacecraft and say the film is not entertaining? Who will scoff when Daniel Craig, in full James Bond mode here, melts an alien's face with a magical death ray, then tip his Stetson to the remains? Is your soul so cold and dead?
The plot is the plot of every good Western. The characters are hard men who make sacrifices to do what is right, and the aliens drip slime and conceal hidden appendages, which can be revealed when the movie needs a little extra grossness.
If Shia LaBeouf were in this, he'd be eaten by a lizard monster in the first reel.