War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds ★★★½

Spielberg wastes no time getting into this story of violent invasion. He gives us a barely cursory backstory for Tom Cruise’s not quite plausible working guy protagonist before jumping into the action quickly, with a suddenness that feels intensive, overwhelming, nearly hard to believe. It’s no accident that it all invokes 9/11 and with manic energy; this is a movie that’s very much still reeling from that tragedy. What follows is a dazzling series of set pieces of high tension, painful anxiety and huge pyrotechnic grandeur—we never zoom out to space, but even from the ground it feels interplanetary. It all works too; Spielberg is very nearly at the height of his powers here. But in the final moments, his apparent lack of interest in either truly playing out the long war—or in the hard work of a truly earned resolution—reveals itself. There’s a pat, absurd voice over that purports to explain everything away but it rings hollow. It’s a true shame. Spielberg had nine-tenths of a great movie here but he threw it all away just short of the finish line.

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