The best part of "War of the Worlds" was the preview for "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe". While it was clearly an FX extravaganza in summber-blockbuster style, "War of the Worlds" lacks a substantive plot that would be engaging to the viewer. Here's the story, in a nutshell - "Oh, giant alien machines are attacking. Let's flee for ...uh... Boston, where your mother is. Because nothing bad happens in Boston."
And indeed, they do - and indeed, nothing bad happens in Boston. Along the way, people are vaporized, the September 11th attacks are directly referenced with a wall of notes for missing people, and humans are generally mean to each other, and kind to each other, or just crazy. There's very little along the lines of a story, and instead - the movie consists of one harrowing near-escape after another. The action is exciting, it's true. But the effects aren't so spectacular that they'll stick with me - as I was leaving the theatre I could feel my memory of the film evaporating. Some of the sound design was quite remarkable, evoking a more palpable sense of dread than any of the visual effects.
I think it says a lot about both Tom Cruise and Spielberg's movie that my sincerest hope, throughout the film, was that Tom Cruise would meet some horrific end at the hands (err...robotic tentacles...) of the aliens. Alas, despite several close calls, he did not. Maybe the most enjoyable part of the experience was wondering, "Oh man, wouldn't it be cool if the giant tripod thingy grabbed him up, yanked him by his ankle to dangle in front of the big eye thingy, and then the cockpit opens, and there's Katie Holmes saying, "Call me Xenu!" " Now that would have made it worth seeing.
I give "War of the Worlds" four rings out of five in the "One Ring Scale" where one ring is the greatest movie of all time, and five is abominable. Four rings means "easily missed". I'm not sure "War of the Worlds" is even worth a rental.