Great cast, amusing title, decent concept — and unfortunately, a script that is bland and cliché-ridden, and a usually good director who forgets to bring the joy, resulting in a stultifying slog of a Western/science-fiction movie. The great superhero movie rewatch suffers through Cowboys & Aliens.
There are several homages to other movies here, but all they serve to do is remind of movies that are way better than this one. The opening is a riff on the beginning of Silverado; the first appearance of the alien ships as they’re about to attack Absolution is similar to the lightshow from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the bit where they take refuge in the abandoned riverboat is right out of Alien; and Lonergan jumping onto the ship from his horse is from Stagecoach (and about fifty other Westerns).
It’s particularly amusing that they chose Silverado to homage at the top of the movie, because that’s an example of this type of movie done right. The heyday of Westerns was long past by the time Silverado came out in 1985, but it was done as a tribute to them—but it was also fun. Not only that, but Silverado gave you more of a sense of depth of character with one line (“Where’s the dog, Paden?”), followed by sad embittered silence from Kevin Kline, than Cowboys & Aliens can scrape together in its entire running time.