I saw this when it came out, thinking it was not that bad, although the few intervening years have not been that kind and in retrospect the whole thing comes off as quite inconsequential without much reason for being. Perhaps because in the meantime I read the Philip K. Dick story that this is supposedly adapted from, and learned that it is about ten pages at the most, and the only things taken from it are the concept of stopping crime before it happens, minority reports (we'll explain later) and a bunch of yak-yak about predestination. That means that 95% of this movie is modern screenwriter's invention, and looking back, it sure seems like it.
The other thing that received a lot of blather at the time this movie came out is how they did a bunch of research with futurists and explored where technology would be fifty years from now, and it's now possible to see that a large portion of this movie is merely a tour of the future (Epcot Center: The Motion Picture). None of this would annoy me so much if this movie didn't have to be a perfectly pointless two-and-a-half hours. But remember kids... Bloat = Importance! Just ask Martin Scorsese.
Okay, so it's 2054 and we have an opening sequence where these three psychics (precogs) in a pool send images of a man killing his wife to the big screen, where Tom Cruise as John Anderton sorts through them using big swiping hand gestures. You'll notice they turn on classical music every time he does this, to underscore the idea that he is "conducting." This is one of those "the future realized" moments, because this movie came out just before iPhones and their interface of swiping and spreading to enlarge, etc. John has to figure out where the crime will happen from the visual images, and he and his team get there just in time. We then have a TV commercial to provide exposition about the whole thing, letting us know that Precrime has reduced the murder rate in Washington, DC, where it is just in the trial stages, to zero, and will soon be rolled out across the country. Then, if you didn't catch it the first two times, John explains the whole thing again, to Colin Farrell as Danny something, sent to investigate the program and make a bunch of smug faces and pompous comments.
John goes and buys some light but illegal drug on the way home, then watches holographic home movies of his dead son. Oh God, the dead child trauma YET AGAIN? The tough cop who has the lingering trauma over his dead child? AGAIN? Yes, again. Anyway, now that we've had the exposition and character setup, we're ready for the actual movie to begin.
John goes to work where he gets a vision of a murderer--and it's HIMSELF! He goes on the run, and here's where we get about a straight 30 minutes of "tour of the future." First we have the highways of the future, which make 90-degree turns and suddenly drop down buildings. That part was pretty cool. Then we have the advertisements of the future, which scan your irises and direct their pitches directly to you by name. We already have the tiniest hint of this in those creepy ads where you search for a product once, then find that very product advertised on every website you visit thereafter. Then we have the jet-packs of the future, then we have the auto assembly plant of the future. It wasn't bad the first time, but watching again I found this section fairly tedious. It is just four chase sequences in a row, chase here, chase there, chase over here, chase here too, and in a certain way it's just so much dead air.
So John gets a car and drives out to the wilderness, where he meets this woman who developed the three precogs, and she explicates that they had an extremely abusive creation process that resulted in a lot of rejects being killed. But first John passes these vines that attack him, and, I don't know why, I just love killer plants. They were a big part of a similar movie that is ten times as crappy but a hundred times more fun, A Sound of Thunder. This woman is here to provide exposition of the minority report, which is when two of the precogs agree but the third doesn't. So John has to get his report and clear his name. In here we briefly introduce John's ex-wife, Laura, and explicate that she still loves and respects John, but they couldn't stay married because of the, you guessed it, Dead Child.
SPOILERS > > >
So in order to get back into the city, John will have to have his eyes exchanged, which he goes to an unlicensed doctor to do. As he's recovering, we have the flashback of how the child was lost. Then the police come and it's tour of the future time once again as these little spider-things comb through the building and check everyone's eyes. We see that the residents are used to this, and even see one couple stop their fighting long enough to be scanned, then continue. John finally gets scanned, just in time, and his new eyes pass. He then takes his old eyes back to Precrime headquarters, where he uses them to get into the building (no, even though he is at the top of the most-wanted list, they haven't changed the access codes yet). There is a humorous moment in here where he has to chase his old eyeballs as they roll down a hallway. He gets in and takes Agatha.
Now a good sequence as they escape through a mall, Agatha telling John little hints to avoid capture, like wait in a spot until a guy selling balloons happens to stop long enough to hide them from police view. Don't worry about how they told us earlier that the precogs only see murders. They then get to the building where the murder is to take place, and Agatha tells him "Walk away. You have a choice." John goes in and finds a bed strewn with pictures of kids, including his own. So this is the guy who abducted John's kid. So John IS going to kill him. But then he decides not to--which upsets the guy, who was planted as a victim in an arrangement that would take care of his family after he's gone. There's a struggle, and John DOES kill him. But John realizes he's been set up. So you mean there's MORE? I was kind of getting ready for this thing to end.
Danny gets in the room and realizes instantly that it's a setup and John has been framed. He goes to Max Von Sydow as Lamar, mentor to John and father of the Precrime program, and shows him the evidence that indicts--LAMAR! Danny finds out the hard way that you don't go all by yourself to accuse some ruthless guy of murder. WHY would he do that? He seemed like a pretty shrewd guy. But oh well. Now we know that Lamar set John up. It's all super complicated, but basically Lamar recreated a murder that already happened to mask his real murder, which was to kill Agatha's mother so he could have her for the program. As in real life, the less you think, the happier you'll be.
John takes Agatha's to Laura (his ex wife, remember) for hiding out, where we stop for some catharsis as Agatha tells them what their son is doing now--or would be doing? I'm kind of confused on that one. Anyway, John is caught, electronically lobotomized, and put in storage with all the other criminals. The end! Oh... except that it's not. Christ, how many endings is this thing going to have?
So Laura pays a visit to Lamar, where she realizes that he is the killer. She then takes a gun and gets John out of storage! He uploads Agatha's vision of the real murder, and they broadcast it to the awards dinner where Lamar is being feted, because we all like the familiar scene in which a whole group gets to see the evidence unfold at a big party for the person in question. The footage clearly shows Lamar's face, because he conducted the killing himself, which also strikes as unlikely. But whatever, we need BIG MOMENTS! It all comes down to a confrontation with John on the roof, Lamar kills himself, John is cleared, and we're all happy. The Precrime program is ceased--although I don't really see why that had to happen--and we see that John and Laura are back together, and expecting another child. Lost one... have another! Like puppies. Finally we discover that the precogs have been liberated and live in a rustic cabin with nothing to do but read and nothing around for miles. That's better, I guess? And that's finally the end.
< < < SPOILERS END
Ultimately, not that great, and way too long. Looking back the main impression is that Spielberg wanted to have a Blade Runner of his very own, with a neo-noir story set against a chilling future. Part of the reason it doesn't have the same impact is that the intent of the project is a little too obvious. Whereas Blade Runner unfolded around a more compelling story, and let all the future stuff just suffuse the background, so YOU had to think about it and put it together, this one makes its tour of the future the main content, so it's out there in your face and you just passively get it shown to you. Not to mention that while a lot of people relate to life ending early, not too many worry about being accused of a crime that hasn't happened yet, predestination, and all that. The other thing is that while Blade Runner showed the future as a place of pervasive commercialism and misery, this movie has a weird vision where you're either in the city, which is built up and suffused with surveillance, or outside, where there are still homey houses and fields and lakeside homes and fields of grass, and a contented suburban existence pretty much exactly like ours unfolds. Whereas in Blade Runner the only escape from the misery is to leave the planet (itself a pretty dark statement), here all you have to do is take a bus to the country, where everything is pretty much fine.
When I first saw this I assumed that the Dick story probably ended with John being lobotomized and thrown in storage, and assumed that everything afterward is Spielberg's inability to have an unhappy ending. Then I read the Dick story, which only has the slightest connection to this film, and is about John being accused of killing a politician. In the end he DOES kill the politician, in order to prove that precrime works. Obviously we aren't going to have a movie about THAT, are we? Then you realize that this story is almost wholly a screenwriter's invention, which only cheapens it, and makes big satisfying movie moments like The killer being exposed in public--the exact same scene that ends The Fugitive and any number of other big movies--seem pretty cheesy. One is willing to forgive a bit more when it is an adaptation of something else, but once you realize that almost all of this is original screenplay, the tour of the future, the weep-weep over children and some of the big satisfying movie moments just seem really standard and rote. It's not even really that fun, because every moment is suffused with the vast importance of what we're seeing, which also snuffs out most of the life of the film.
That's about it. It's not awful. Its entertaining and has good parts. I'm trying to think if there's anything more to say... but not really.
It won't kill you, but I suspect you have better things to do.