As so often, when I review a movie on this blog, it is because I think the movie has flaws. Yes, I think Cowboys & Aliens had flaws. I enjoyed it, but it could have been better.
So hang on. Or stop reading, because here will be spoilers.
First some minor things:
There was this Ella, turning out to be an good-guy alien. It was a setup for that she knew the main character Jake and knew what he had been through, but the follow-up for this was very vague.
And then there was the bully ranch-owner Dolarhyde played by Harrison Ford. It was not shown that the "owned" the town. This could have been shown much better. He could have been much more of a villain.
And minor flaw number three: the evil aliens was said to not handle sunlight well, but once when they were out they did well enough. Just any ordinary monster. Bleak.
The major problem according to me is the relationship between the characters and the lack of character development.
The main character is Jake played by Daniel Craig. In the beginning of the movie he wakes up in the wild with an odd bracelet and no memory. When he arrives to a town he is arrested by the local sheriff because Jake is a wanted man.
The sheriff turns out to be a good man, treating everyone with respect. I can't say that Jake and the sheriff developed a friendship - far from it - but roles were established. One I expected to develop to a form of relationship during the movie.
Then the ranch-owner Dolarhyde turns up and wants Jake because Jake has robbed him. The aliens turns up and kidnap a bunch of townsfolk including the sheriff and Dolarhyde's - also arrested - son. So Jake and Dolarhyde are suddenly a couple on the hunt after the aliens (Jake only since he remembers that the aliens took and killed his loved one).
So Jake frees the sheriff, they return to town and the goodbye is said between the two movie stars Craig and Ford, and not between Jake and the sheriff, which should have been much more satisfying, since it was there it all started. A wanted man and a sheriff is a far more interesting good bye than a wanted man and the former town bully saying good buy. But movie stars are doomed to take all the good lines.
Jake's character does not develop much, he just regains his memory. That's not what I call development.
Dolarhyde learns to respect his son and not be the owner of the town, but this is due to everybody is suddenly rich with gold, not because he has reached some major understanding during the rescue trip.
The relationship between Jake and Dolarhyde is also very thin and close to pointless.
I would like to have seen this:
Instead of the aliens taking the sheriff, they would have taken his grandchild. Small change, but huge change for the story.
This would have left Jake, Dolarhyde and the Sheriff in the posse. A far more interesting constellation. Could Jake be trusted? They need him (his bracelet is a weapon), but as it was in the film, no one forced him to join, which made him a free man. The Sheriff-Jake couple would have been far more interesting, because the Sheriff needs to take Jake along, knowing he is violent killer.
Jake of course would have a loved one taken too - still a live, mind you, what else is there to fight for in the beginning (when we don't know they will claim the whole Earth)?
Dolarhyde and the Sheriff are no friends - they would have been a great couple, creating some interesting discussions and character development. Both claim Jake too.
Just my opinion.
Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.