Blair Russell’s review published on Letterboxd:
Even before Criterion put out this movie a few years ago I had known of this British sci-fi tale featuring tremendous sets and effects for the time. Finally, I saw that it was on Turner Classic Movies last night and I knew this was the time to check it out, despite the wide variety of opinions I've heard about it here. It's based on the H.G. Wells novel The Shape of Things to Come; I've heard differing opinions on just how much influence and impact Wells himself had on the film while they made it, but it can be agreed that he did not love everything about it, which is the opinion that most in general have of it.
This story spans 100 years (1936 to 2036) and a fictional city in the UK. A war happens in 1940 (eerily close to when the country entered World War II) and it lasts for several decades, devastating the area and it eventually becomes essentially a setting from a few centuries ago, as if it was a small village in the 1800's. Things happen and we arrive in 2036, a spectacular futuristic world, but for various reasons people are still upset and fearful.
I understand those who did not really care for this motion picture due to its dry nature, the long stretches of dialogue and the characters being about as exciting and dynamic as pieces of chalk. All are valid claims to me. With the way they did the story the focus would always be on the effects and the overarching story of how things don't really change despite how different the setting might be, but I do wish that those things would have been improved.
That said, I found it to be a very intriguing tale with some rather harsh and rough moments; those are nice but the clear highlight is the stellar effects. From the chaos of the war years to the wonder of the future, the various tools they used to bring those worlds to life is still impressive 80 years later. In addition, while some predictions were definitely wrong, some things (not even counting the guess of World War II) were accurate. Some of the building designs are what come to mind. The cinematography, direction and score are all at least “pretty good”.
This could have been an all-time classic if it would not have been so aloof, wasn't so preachy and had more dynamic characters. That said, this is still an interesting curio, a big gamble at the time that failed at the box office... since then it has become more appreciated. Whether or not you like it is up to personal opinion; I say it is worth a shot.