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Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man” 1 and 2) apparently heard about “Cowboys and Aliens” from Robert Downey Jr. (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Iron Man”), who was originally cast as Zeke Jackson, a character from the original 2006 Image Comics graphic novel.

While Mr. Downey left the project for “Sherlock Holmes,” Mr. Favreau became director for “Cowboys and Aliens.” The story changed and Daniel Craig (the most recent incarnation of Bond, James Bond) became Jake Lonergan, a strong, silent stranger with a past he does not remember. Also brought on board were Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) as Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, Olivia Wilde (Thirteen, “House, M.D.”) as Ella, Sam Rockwell (“Conviction”) as Doc and others audience members will recognize.

The film is successful not only because it is beautifully cast, but also because its writers and director paid great attention to the tropes and types found in the genres of both Westerns and science fiction invasion-of-Earth-type movies. The archetype of the character/role played by Daniel Craig is not the only one in this film discernible in dozens of Westerns; Woodrow Dolarhyde is the cruel, callous old rancher who has
a change of heart by the end of the film. The good-hearted but realistic preacher; the young boy yet to become a man; the beautiful, mysterious woman; the son of the rancher who bullies and browbeats others because he can do so without con- sequences – those who have watched cowboy movies will recognize these and more.

By the same token, those who have watched science fiction films from “Day of the Triffids” to “Predator” and “Alien” will also readily distinguish their oft-used tropes in “Cowboys and Aliens”: the kidnapping of Earthlings, “scientific” torture designed to “discover their weaknesses,” the looming devastation of Earth at the hands of the monstrous aliens and others.

The thing is, it works. It works well.

Allusions and use of type and trope from both genres are affectionate but
serious. While there is humor in this film, the results are not tongue-in-cheek, campy or satiric. The characters are effectively portrayed as people of the 1800s who live in a nothing little town on the plains, attacked by beings horrendously fast, terrifyingly advanced in technology and ugly as sin.

“Are they demons?” someone asks. Since these people have never encountered anything like these monsters that
are stealing their loved ones, it is hard
for them to know the answer.

The motley group (when Ella expresses to Preacher Meacham the desire to ride along with them as they track down an injured alien, he welcomes her. “We already have a dog and a boy. Why not a woman?” he mutters as they ride on) finds they must fight together with what is left of a tribe of Indians to defeat their common enemy, regardless of their initial mutual distrust.

“Cowboys and Aliens” is exciting, its characters engaging, the aliens scary. It all meets up satisfyingly and seamlessly, and is great fun to watch.

Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man” 1 and 2) apparently heard about “Cowboys and Aliens” from Robert Downey Jr. (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Iron Man”), who was originally cast as Zeke Jackson, a character from the original 2006 Image Comics graphic novel.