In all honesty it's surprising this wasn't been done sooner. Beginning with STAR WARS, the sci-fi genre has been borrowing Western motifs. Jon Favreau's comic book adaptation puts sci-fi smack dab into a Western. Even the sci-fi has a Western tingle to it. The heart of this film is in the Wild West and most importantly with its characters.
Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, CASINO ROYALE) wakes up in the Arizona desert without a memory of who he is or how he got there. A strange metal bracket is locked on his wrist. Outlaws stumble upon him and with the violent way he handles them, we know that the black hat he puts on suits him well. He comes to a small town to take care of the wound in his side. Due to a wanted poster and a band of deputies, he discovers he is a man on the run. He is arrested and handed over to the marshal, but he doesn't get taken very far because aliens attack and lasso citizens, taking them hostage. Turns out, Jake's mysterious bracelet has the power to blast an alien spaceship out of the sky.
Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, STAR WARS) is the brutal cattleman of the area. He demands Jake's help rescue his trouble-making son Percy (Paul Dano, THERE WILL BE BLOOD), but the amnesiac is more concerned with figuring out what happened to him. The mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde, TRON: LEGACY) seems to know something about Jake, but she's not telling. She will only get more mysterious over the course of the story.
Once Jake starts putting pieces of his past together, he joins the posse headed out to save the townfolk from the aliens. The story, which was written by STAR TREK rebooters/FRINGE creators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, LOST's Damon Lindelof and IRON MAN scribes Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, does a great job of establishing its characters and putting their stories at the center of the action. Jake wants answers about what happened to him. Retribution comes into play after details are revealed. Dolarhyde wants to save his son, who is wonderfully set-up early on as a blowhard bullying screw-up. Firing off your gun doesn't always make you a bad man.
The ruthless Dolarhyde, who saw a great deal of death in the Civil War, has a soft spot for children. He takes the young Emmett (Noah Ringer, LAST AIRBENDER) under his wing after the boy's grandfather Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine, TV's DEXTER) is taken by the aliens. Nat Colorado (Adam Beach, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS) is Dolarhyde's righthand man; an Indian Dolarhyde took in as a child, but treats like a dog. Doc (Sam Rockwell, GREEN MILE) is the bar owner who wishes he wouldn't have dragged his wife Maria (Ana de la Reguera, NACHO LIBRE) to the West after she is taken. Meacham (Clancy Brown, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) is a kind preacher who believes the aliens are demons.
Craig does well as the laconic antihero of the tale. We're engaged in his story because we are piecing it together with him. Cast against type, Ford bristles as he tells Emmett about the first time he had to kill a man when he was about the boy's age. It's like watching Ford channeling John Wayne's Ethan Edwards from THE SEARCHERS. His hatred of Indians is tested when they need the help of Black Knife (Raoul Trujillo, THE NEW WORLD) and his Chiricahua Apache warriors. His emotional journey is the most layered. Wilde, costumed in a dress and gun belt, has a spacey quality that makes her character intriguing. This is a perfectly cast film.
Unlike the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA where super weapons didn't really seem to mean much against antiquated weaponry, here, the aliens out gun the humans by far. So it takes numbers and ingenuity to save their kin. Favreau is establishing himself as an action director who is far more interested in human drama than blowing things up. That seems the perfect person to bring this Western to the screen. The best of the genre always focused on characters. The sci-fi twist just gives the characters a bigger obstacle to overcome. Could this revitalize the Western? As fun and badass as this film gets it certainly is gunning for it.