Spielberg and company's so-so, 9/11-inflected update of H.G. Wells' seminal tale of alien invasion has some nice moments between about the 20- and 80-minute mark. Unfortunately, the movie features two of the most annoying offspring in film history for Tom Cruise to bond with during an alien invasion because alien invasions just aren't interesting unless they involve Steven Spielberg's go-to trope, The Absent Father.
It's important for Spielberg, as Old Hollywood's last air-bending Avatar, to remind us that even when billions of humans are literally getting dusted, as in 'turned to dust,' FAMILY IS THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS.
And what a family! They're so great that the kids' grandparents live on the only street in Boston that doesn't get destroyed by marauding alien tripods who thirst for human blood to... fertilize their plants? I think Wells really nailed the concept of 'Keep it simple, stupid' by having the Martians suck human blood out of people for their own dining pleasure, and not to feed their high-fructose corn crop.
The tripods look nice. The redesign of the tentacled creatures of Wells' novel sucks, though. They look like teddy-bear versions of the aliens from Independence Day. Tim Robbins is wasted playing a guy who's somehow found safe haven in the basement of a house located about three feet from a major battle between aliens and the U.S. military.
Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise. He's supposed to be an unlikeable cad who LEARNS BETTER, but he mainly seems justified in his animosity towards his annoying children. He also turns out to be the most competent man in the world, single-handedly taking down an invulnerable tripod with a hand grenade, among other things. Yet he doesn't know his ten-year-old daughter is allergic to peanuts! Ha ha! Absent Dad, you are such a card.
With about 30 minutes to go, the film-makers seem to lose interest in their story, sticking us in that basement with Tim Robbins for an eternity before rushing through the last 15 minutes of the film like holiday travelers with a plane to catch. Oh, well. The ferry scene is pretty swell, as are the early city scenes with the tripods rising out of the ground. Lightly recommended.