Before I watched this I was of the opinion it would either be awesome or awful. One aw or the other.
Having watched it I am still not sure which aw it is.
On pure face value it is a cliched, formulaic self-discovery quest typical of many Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters. The main protagonist is the loser brother of one of the Navy's top young guns who falls in love with the Admirals daughter. The enemy are an advance fleet for an all out Alien invasion. There are science nerds. The girl is a pretty blond. The fate of the earth is in the balance etc, etc... You know the drill by now.
Having to turn a popular board whereby you fire at grid references to destroy ships you can't see must have provided a problem for the writers, given that we all know the modern navy has radar, sonic detection devices and cameras that could spot a pimple on your ass from a thousand clicks. They get around this by using the power of sci-fi. The alien ships are made from a material we cannot detect (they don't explain how NASA were able to pick them up on approach, but I am sure we aren't supposed to think about that) and there communications ship crashes into a satellite before entry to our atmosphere and so the aliens need to communicate with their home planet. They erect an impregnable dome, a force field,over a fairly large part of the pacific including an island that has the satellite relay dishes they require to communicate with home. By lucky happenstance three destroyer clash warships, including our protagonists, are caught inside the dome. The writers' here have done a very good job of creating a plausible story line for the battleship scenario. And the wonderful scene where they are using water displacement from sensors in buoys is a really nice touch for those who wanted a bit of game-style nostalgia (an important lesson learnt from the lamentable film Doom, where the only redeeming feature was the five minutes is was filmed in the first person game mode).
The acting is a little wooded. Liam Neeson is Liam Neeson, he brings a certain gravity to everything he does and he is a good choice for a field active admiral. Alexander Skarsgard (Erik from True Blood) is the older brother and, while he is clearly portraying a deeply ingrained military man, he is an actor who exudes charm just by being on screen. Rihanna is managed well. She is obviously not an actor, but they give her plenty of short lines and nothing too challenging so she manages to pull of the slightly sassy petty officer role that the film demands. Taylor Kitsch is the only major disappointment. He manages to play the disastrous messed up brother convincingly but as soon as he is thrust into a position of authority he fails to convince. I imagine we will be seeing more of him in comic roles but I think he was found wanting when he tried to stretch the acting muscles further.
Their are two other mini-quests of self-discovery featuring the comic scientist (who does bring moments of genuine humour) and the bad-ass army commander who lost his legs. The latter is genuinely bad ass. Their quests help to hold the story together and the writers' rightly realised that just the battle out to sea would probably not be enough to keep the audience invested in the film.
The effects are superb, but that is no more than we expect now from the heavily CGI'd Hollywood effects conveyor belt.
I have said before I don't do spoilers so I won't say anymore about the plot.
To conclude the film shouldn't work because it relies so heavily on cliche and formula to work, even with the original and brilliant idea's of how to make the game work as a film that the writers' bought in. But somehow it does work. There are periods of genuine humour and some touching tragedy (although visually it is overdone in favour of melodrama).
I have to say it is neither of the aws. It falls somewhere in between. It is a good action movie which has enough humour to show us it doesn't take itself too seriously.