Review Date: 12/7/20
Director: Steven Spielberg
Music: John Williams
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, cameos by Gene Barry, Ann Robinson
Steven Spielberg's update to H.G. Wells's science fiction classic adheres closer to the book than the original 1953 movie, but that doesn't make it any better. First of all, the premise makes absolutely no sense. The invaders' vehicles have supposedly been buried underground for millions of years before their pilots show up in the guise of freak lightning storms. Seriously? This alone really challenges my suspension of disbelief. If they were left behind that long ago, why did they wait until now to attack? And why would they even need live pilots in the first place? They're obviously advanced enough to be operated remotely. Spielberg reportedly thought the idea of invaders arriving in spaceships had been done to death and was too cliché, but buried machines and electrical storms isn't any better. And the fact that hundreds or thousands of these things are scattered across the globe and not one geological survey had ever uncovered one? That's really stretching it.
Anyway, apart from that radical departure, the story revolves around a divorced father named Ray (Tom Cruise) and his two estranged children, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning). When the invaders start destroying Ray's town, he grabs the kids and heads to Boston to meet up with his ex-wife (Miranda Otto). But the invaders are ruthless, and while the trio gets some extremely lucky breaks, they also encounter a fair number of obstacles. Military retaliation proves to be futile, and the planet is on the brink of collapse until the invaders fall ill and die due to Earth's toxic bacteria.
First and foremost, it's a spectacle film, and the scenes of mass destruction are very impressive. Unfortunately, those are few and far between, and when stuff isn't blowing up, the film drags to an unbearable crawl. There's also one amazing camera move that really caught my attention and I can't wrap my head around how they pulled it off. Considering the rest of the visual effects, I'm sure some sort of digital trickery was involved. The dialog is grating and abrasive, and I felt compelled to hit the fast forward button whenever anyone was talking. One thing that Tom Cruise excels at is being a dick, and Ray may be the most dislikable character of his career. He's an egotistical and not-so-bright man-child, as well as a sexist portrait of toxic masculinity who somehow manages to be even more useless and immature than his kids. He generates zero sympathy and his unpleasantness actually repels the audience to the point where they can't engage with the film. Dakota Fanning gives an excellent performance and is the only character that elicits any sort of connection, mostly due to how helpless and vulnerable she is. However, those characteristics also make her very annoying. Basically, it's two hours of watching unlikable people behaving badly during a crisis situation that brings out the worst in everyone. It also reminded me a lot of "Independence Day" (1996) in that it has about ten minutes of footage that's worth watching, while the rest of the film is tedious garbage.