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A feminist reviews…Cowboys and Aliens

Image credit: Howard A’Court

Where men are men, aliens are cowboys and women are a mystery.

Cowboys and Aliens is not a film I would usually see at the cinema. Or, indeed anywhere. At any time. But I was out with my Dad and my sister and there was nothing else on.

“It’s got to be good,” my Dad told me, with pleading eyes, “Daniel Craig’s in it.”

After a split second of remembering James Bond, I yanked my fingernails out of the fleshy centre of my palm and said, “Ok. Let’s do this.”

The film is precisely as ludicrous as you think it’s going to be, possibly even more; with the descent of little – or in this case, huge – green men on the Wild West, how could it be anything else?

But, and this is a big but – bigger than, say, Eric Pickles – it is entertaining.

I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid it either.

Because one thing I did find this film to be was interesting: particularly in its representation of men.

We’re in the Wild West, so the men are men.

They’re men’s men.

In fact, if these men were any more laden with testosterone, they’d be in danger of devolving back into apes. Angry, steroid-loaded apes. On acid. With guns.

These men are brooding, emotionally retarded, and seemingly convinced that violence is the answer to everything. To support this notion, the cast is led by Indiana Jones and James Bond, who both have this particular brand of masculinity down to a fine art (if the art is finger-painting).

In fact, good old fashioned masculinity is so embedded in this film that even the aliens are infected by it.

Despite their superior technology and the ability to travel through time and space, the aliens are basic, brutish, aggressive and after our gold.

In fact, the aliens are pretty much, cowboys.

So what about the women?

There are only three women in this film who aren’t extras: the barman’s wife, the dead lover of James Bond, and Ella – our enigmatic hero.

Ella is played excellently by Olivia Wilde, despite being given no back story and absolutely nothing to work with, not even a good script. I assumed, as I was meant to, that Ella was simply another prostitute until she knocked out James Bond with the butt of a rifle.

Having always wanted to do the same thing myself, from thereon in she became more intriguing – though less and less female.

But to understand what I mean by that, you need to see the movie (no spoilers here, sweetie).

In Cowboys and Aliens, Hollywood has found a new way to express an old plot, complete with old faithful reproductions of gender – up to a point, because Ella is a real departure from gender norms in this genre.

Ella is the hero of this film – I defy anyone to say otherwise.

There is no resolution to the story without her. There is no way for the ‘good guys’ – and I use the term, well, inaccurately – to win without her. In fact, the whole plot actually depends on her.

For me, she is also the only interesting thing in the film – apart from a few moments where men inflicting mindless, idiotic violence on each other’s person made me chuckle.

But, and we’re back to Eric Pickles here, disappointingly, Ella feels like an accident.

Although the plot hangs on her, she feels incidental and hugely under-developed – the token woman written into a film aimed at men. Real men. Men’s men. Grrr.

And that was disappointing because it felt like a missed opportunity.

That said, in a cinematic landscape where ‘Cowboy and Aliens’ really was the best thing on offer on a Friday night, maybe that’s not too much for us to worry about.