Great Spielberg suspense craftwork-- no surprise there. The usual bursts of lyricism--various Holocaust, Rwanda and 9/11 visual metaphors, search and redemption tropes that resonate as far back as The Searchers-- often flattened or rushed along by the newsreel-style John Williams score. (Thankfully, far less of this music than usual.)
But in the end, Spielberg's War of the Worlds makes everything alright, restoring the family, tucking the horror away in the tidy manner that his great A.I. put in chilling perspective. One could preserve the positive H.G. Wells ending without neglecting the sense of trauma, irrevocable change and spiritual crisis that no film about the destruction of civilization should do without.
Spielberg always takes us to the edge but just as often retreats, as if his characters have just gotten off a rather intense attraction at the Universal theme park. He achieves the hallucinatory hyperrealism of Andrei Rublev, Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Come and See but too often dampens the fire with stock dramatic devices that dissipate the sense of real-time jeopardy.
As metaphorical sci-fi, there was more meat on Minority Report's bones. But as a Hollywood summer movie, WotW was still pleasantly subversive.
Photo from Come and See (Copyright 2003 Kino International).