Cowboys, aliens, and chicks

Saw this movie last night and found it moderately entertaining. But it has serious plot holes and even more serious story flaws. And I suspect that these flaws are at least partly because Olivia Wilde’s character had to be The Chick.

So, here’s the way the plot spools out in the actual movie we saw. Daniel Craig wakes up in the desert with this crazy thing clamped around his arm, and amnesia. He turns the table on some would-be crooks and proves he is a badass. Then he goes into the nearest town, which is being terrorized by the irresponsible kid of the local cattle baron (Harrison Ford) who kind of owns everything and tells everybody what to do. Daniel Craig remains a badass.

Olivia Wilde comes out of the saloon to stare at him in a kind of wide-eyed wonder. When he is in a saloon drinking, she comes up to him and says some mysterious things. Then she helps the sheriff (who has recognized him from a wanted poster) capture him. Later she apologizes for this, explaining that she needed to make sure he didn’t run away. She says more mysterious things.

Specifically she asks him, “I need to know where you come from.” I remember that line because it was in the trailer. It’s part of one of those conversations that I HATE, where people say enigmatic and confusing things they would never say in real life, just so information can be hidden from the audience. She kind of implies that she has been waiting for him — or waiting for somebody like him — or following him — or something. She also mentions that these same creatures destroyed her people. So what, is she here looking for them? It’s not clear.

Then aliens attack. Daniel Craig finds out his wrist thing is a badass weapon. They have these unmanned flying ships that capture the townspeople by roping them like cattle and dragging them back to — well, that’s not clear. And nobody wonders about it out loud, either. Nobody says anything like, “hey, I wonder where they’re taking people. Maybe we should try to find out.” Instead, when they see creepy alien footprints, they decide to form a posse (made up conveniently of all the characters we have met so far) to track the alien. Then a huge portion of the movie is them tracking the alien, getting attacked by the alien, and failing to kill the alien, even though it is not clear what exactly they intend to do with the alien if they do track him.

Then Olivia Wilde’s character dies. Then the members of the posse are captured by some natives who throw her body on the fire for some reason. Then OMG she’s like a fire creature or something and she steps out of the fire and she’s naked Olivia Wilde. (Back only. Sorry guys.) She is an alien herself! She took this form to walk among you! She comes bringing a warning! Keep the aliens from getting back to their home, or they will bring more and more and more and will DESTROY YOU ALL! That’s what they did to her people! Her alien people!

So now they have to use magical native magic to make Daniel Craig remember where the alien base is. He also remembers how he got the weapon thing, because he and his girlfriend were captured, and she died, but then he stole the weapon thing and escaped because he is just that much of a badass.

Then everybody has to go destroy the alien ship. Outside the ship is a big battle, which is not a very satisfying big battle, because the number of aliens they face seems to vary randomly and the humans’ strategy for killing them is muddy at best. Meanwhile Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde go into the alien ship and rescue the captured townspeople. Then suddenly she knows how to use that wrist thing to destroy the whole ship, but she has to sacrifice herself in the process. The ship takes off and blows up. Yay!

Except that it doesn’t make any sense. Why was she in town just kind of hanging around waiting for Daniel Craig’s character to show up? She couldn’t have known that one of the captured humans would succeed in getting one of their weapons and escaping. What was her plan before Daniel Craig showed up? And why didn’t she seem to recognize the wrist thing if she already knew what it was and how to use it? And if she is capable of traveling to our planet from another planet and of taking on human form, why didn’t she already know where the alien ship was? It was just sitting out there in some rocks, it wasn’t exactly hard to find. The whole thing could have been more like the Guns of Navarone — she was in town rounding up a posse to go destroy the aliens. And nobody wanted to go with her until their own people got captured.

Basically, when she reveals her true identity, none of her actions up until that time make any sense. And I can’t help but feel it’s because the story that made more sense would have allowed her to drive the action. It would have been more like True Grit. Instead, she has to be The Chick. She can be magically powerful but she can’t drive the plot. And, as a result, the plot makes no sense.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the five million people (okay, eight) credited with the screenplay did that consciously and deliberately. I doubt they thought, “oh, no, the obvious plot that makes sense is for Olivia Wilde to drive the action and we can’t have that!” But I bet they did consciously think about ways to allow Daniel Craig to be even more of a badass, and to give Harrison Ford additional screentime, and all that. Look at the poster. Olivia Wilde isn’t the star. She’s not even third billing.


  1. Yeah, I kind of wondered about their battle strategy, which seemed to be, “Let’s send the outlaws down below as bait to be massacred while the Apache stay on the safe high ground and pick them off.” I wonder if that was part of Harrison Ford’s deal with the chief to let him be in charge.

    I totally agree with you about Olivia Wilde’s character, and I like your idea of making it more like True Grit.

    I am vaguely curious to see the novelization, done by Joan Vinge, because I imagine a good writer could flesh things out a bit in the space of a book.

    1. Author

      It’s based on a graphic novel which might also have made more sense. This kind of had the general framework of a much better movie.

      1. The plot synopsis of the graphic novel is very, very different from that of the movie. (I read it on Wikipedia.)

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