And we're back!
War of the Worlds (2005)
Mentioned this in my rewatch of Saving Private Ryan of how Spielberg has ramped up the intensity in many of his 2000s blockbuster fares, and this is probably his most potent combination of serious darkness and big-budget escapism for the forseeable future (interested in Ready Player One though).
Everything not about Ray's son (Robbie) and the ending range from great to all-timer: the relentless evocation of sheer panic from each attack (focusing on the reactions to special effects rather than the great special effects themselves), the tight echoes for 9/11 allegory that never come off cheap, the terror of mob mentality and paranoia, and each striking detail in the world gone destructed (bodies floating down river, empty clothes falling from sky, haunting blood-red landscapes, etc.).
The pat ending and Robbie's arc still clangs loudly though, but in the latter case, I found the seed of a strong idea, especially with this rewatch coming after Bridge of Spies' release: Spielberg still grappling with depicting patriotism. I now see details in Robbie's arc a little more and find it compelling in abstract, of how terror can induce intense protectiveness, both for family (Ray's arc) and country (Robbie's). It's just that in this film Spielberg only brings in his two usual modes: big spectacle (more gory and thematically ambitious this time out, to be fair) and intimate parental drama. The latter serves well for Ray's story, especially when they comes across Tim Robbins' Harlan. But Spielberg seems at a loss on how to portray Robbie, so it's just a bunch of reaction shots of the teen actor making serious faces to aliens and soldiers and nothing else; the actual execution of his character is so frustratingly lacking, feeding into the limp ending. Still, to borrow Mike D'Angelo's unimprovable last line to his superb review, half a masterpiece is better than none at all. 8/10