In recent months much of the focus surrounding War of the Worlds has had to do with Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Scientology, but most of that will all be forgotten once audiences sit through the first 15 minutes of the film, trust me on this.
Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a dock worker loading and unloading containers as they come off the water, a working class man living in New Jersey. As the bell rings for quitting time he roars out of the parking lot and heads home to find his pregnant ex-wife (Miranda Otto), her new husband and their two kids, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning), waiting as he pulls in 30-minutes late.
Let’s just say Ray isn’t exactly Father of the Year and an argument with his son ends up in Robbie stealing his car just before a wild storm comes rolling into town. Ray and his daughter watch as 26 bolts of lightning smash into the ground ultimately leaving the entire neighborhood without power and a bit worried. Ray heads out to find out more and as the ground starts to shake the unexpected happens and the “war” or, better yet, “extermination” is on.
In a movie filled with massive special effects Steven Spielberg not only manages to wow audiences, but he also gives the characters enough time to let us into their lives and for the audience to generate a connection. Above all things this film is about a father and his relationship with his children as he not only struggles to keep himself alive, but he also realizes how important his children are, I guess invading aliens will do that to a dead beat dad.
Where some audiences are going to look for a change will be in the anti-climactic, yet realistic, ending. Keeping with the H.G. Wells sci-fi masterpiece as well as with the original film, for some the ending will be disappointing at first, yet you will soon realize it is rather refreshing to see that such a massive special effect extravaganza has such a simple ending, an ending that doesn’t rely on effects to finish it off.
The ending aside, the only real problem this movie suffers from is its own marvel. The opening segment of War of the Worlds is so strong, so intense and so unbelievably well done that it just can’t sustain its own created momentum. This is not to say that the rest of the film is bad, it just means that the true climax of the film comes early on and the rest is just good old popcorn entertainment.
Tom Cruise gives his normal performance, in now way are you getting the Collateral Cruise, but he is and always has been a great actor. Dakota Fanning is normally a fabulous little actress and while the majority of her performance is excellent she does have a couple of hiccups here and there, especially in the scenes involving her opposite Justin Chatwin, her emotional outbursts seem a bit forced and hard for her to pull off, then again she is only 11-years-old so I think she deserves a break.
On the other side of the fence is Tim Robbins, whose role is limited to about 15-minutes of screen time, yet it offers up the darkest portion of the film and, along with the “killer” sci-fi effects throughout, provides the movie its PG-13 rating.
Overall this film is the reason movie theaters were made. This is not the pitiful excuse for a blockbuster Independence Day was, but it isn’t exactly a knock your socks off extravaganza. What it is, is a satisfying night at the theater. After the opening credits and Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating the start of the film, you will forget all about any Tom Cruise antics you have heard of late, and once the aliens arrive you will be saying, “Katie who? Scientology what? On with the WAR!”