iksvecjart’s review published on Letterboxd:
Outside the context of obnoxious moviegoers shouting every reference they recognised out loud, this was a much stronger experience, though I don't have much to say about this beyond recommending Keith Uhlich's take on it which opened the movie up for me considerably. It's maybe forgivable that I misread this so badly, given the source material (I haven't read it, but I hear it is atrocious), and how straight-faced Spielberg's approach is to this. But once the straightforward blockbuster veneer is uncoated, its sadness becomes clearer with a sort of tonal deception which recalls the final sequence of AI. Right off the bat in an explanatory monologue, Wade states that OASIS is "where the limits of reality are your own imagination", and yet this "imagination" is purely corporate, flooded with references to iconic games, music and movies. Our minds infiltrated by branding. Art weaponised. So of course The Iron Giant and The Shining are misinterpreted by these characters, disfigured from their original form and meaning.
This level of irony continues throughout the movie as it plays out as if it were pure adaptation, but this time it read as pure dystopia even within the virtual world, various moving moments notwithstanding - the first time a name is revealed is the exact point where the OASIS no longer becomes an escape from reality, but now an inseparable part of reality. The same place which people push themselves close to bankruptcy for, willingly abandon their real-life needs, and almost kill themselves out of delirium from misunderstanding whether they are in reality or not. When Halliday shows Wade the button to shut down the OASIS in the finale, it almost appears a veiled cry for him to end it all right there. "A creator who hates his own creation", indeed. What does it tell us that the movie both states that everyone has "stopped trying to fix problems and just tried to outlive them" thereby continuing their reality's deterioration, while also giving us a "happy ending" in which our characters only shut the addictive (and toxic) place down on two days? Wade witnesses the ecstasy of meeting his friends in the real world, but he chooses something alternate instead. The irony is lost on him.