This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
TheRingshifter’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This is an incredibly ugly film. Most obviously in its visuals, a kind of mid-2000s video game cutscene aesthetic, that just renders the entire film almost unwatchable. Secondly, the film is ugly in many of its moment to moment interactions, barefaced examples of screenwriting excrement. Thirdly, the messages and thematic ideas and conclusions of the film are ugly. Fourthly, the whole development and main constitution of the film as a 200-minute advertisement is extremely ugly.
Let's look at our hero Wade Watts, a kid with absolutely no redeeming qualities other than that he knows a lot about '80s culture. As it turns out, that happens to be the exact qualities that the developer James Halliday decided are vital for being worthy of inheriting an enormously important socioeconomic force known as "the OASIS". Not even "a good heart" or some chintzy shit like that. Literally just "knowing a lot about '80s shit and also my life". Being an obsessive. The film tries to shoehorn some of the aforementioned chintz in in two ways, to make the plot possibly a bit easier to keep down, morally speaking:
1. Trying to imply that friendship is needed because the challenges are hard. This clearly isn't the case since the people in second place behind them are a faceless cabal of immoral capitalists.
2. A completely shoehorned and nonsensical scene, where Watts is taken to a golden room and asked to sign a contract to get control of the OASIS. It turns out this was a trick, and for passing the final test, he gets control of the OASIS.
This film is truly one of the biggest and most obvious examples of the stated message of a film and the film's actual message being in complete opposition to each other. Stated message: "reality is real"; go outside and do stuff, the real world is ultimately what matters most. Actual message in the film: the world will be saved by being fucking great at video games and knowing a lot about '80s pop culture. Seriously, this dichotomy is almost unbelievable. Watts literally completes all the challenges, proving he is the best gamer, then confronts Halliday who tells him "the big lesson I learned was that reality is what really matters". There WHY THE FUCK did you make it so that control of a vast fortune and the power to shape the world would be almost GUARANTEED to go to someone who just plays in the fucking OASIS 24/7?!
The film is also full of unexplained or implausible elements around how the game precisely operates (why would people *choose* to feel a painful kick to the gonads?), some are just... weird (the way to escape the infamous and widely feared loyalty centres is to... look up the design of the cages online?). The main issue with the plot is just that it's completely devoid of any weight or meaning or anything. It's literally just a quest to win this prize. There aren't really any arcs or anything, no chemistry. Just a boring video game.
On top of the visuals just being bad CGI, they are made even more ugly by the necessity of mashing together many different visual styles. The underlying reason for this is possibly the biggest problem I have with this film, and why I think it is really a turning point in the film landscape, and the entertainment world as a whole. This whole goddamn film is just a giant advertisement. Old films are referenced, and reeled off: Back to the Future, Buckaroo Banzai, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, <the Iron Giant (in a particularly egregious "cameo"), Terminator, Animal House. There is also a slew of '80s music. But perhaps most distasteful, nonsense references to modern games: Minecraft (which truly is almost literally an in-film advertisement), Overwatch, Halo. These references don't even really make sense in the context of the book / film's universe, where culture is supposed to have stagnated after the '80s, and people are obsessed with '80s culture because it is what their god figure Halliday loved. They only make sense financially.
I think it would be hard to overstate how much Kubrick would hate the the Shining sequence. And I pretty much hated it too. It's probably the most "interesting" part of the film, from a theoretical point of view. The idea of contrasting a classic film with hideous CG characters almost has some potential humour to it, but the way the characters act and the (lack) of humour just turn it into another meaningless reference.
This film just makes me sad. It's not a fun ride. It's action scenes are near vomit-inducing. It's plot is pointless, boring and sad. It's characters are a slew of nothings, Mary Sues, and stereotypes. I don't even consider Speilberg one of my favourite directors, but the fact that the man who directed Jaws, Schindler's List, and Catch Me If You Can has now directed this utter dreck, is just... sad.
Edit 2: Reformatted a bit, added some more... I feel like this film gives me a lot to whine about.