for the first time in my life, i’ve been paid to watch and review a movie. this has also been the first time i’ve asked, perhaps there’s a correlation there. as it turns out, this has also been a major artistic restriction; there are so many one-liners i could boil this atrocity down to, but instead i have to go more in-depth with my vitriol it seems. one in particular that i liked, and one that i truly believes sums up the thesis of this film, is as follows: “you know all those other movies we tried to leave in our childhood where the evil villain says to the hero ‘we’re not so different, you and i?’ well this is the one movie where this would be actually true and the film is plenty cheesy and reductive so why didn’t they at least give me that one?”
seriously, one of the biggest issues with this film isn’t its political stupidity but its lack of ideological narrative in a film whose entire premise is about political power and ideologies. what is wade’s desire? what is he like? well, we don’t really know, other than being a super nerd who everyone both irl and ioasis would probably mock for being as such, which in itself is kinda surprising. what are his goals if he gets the egg? well, he certainly liked the CEO changing the schools to be from john hughes movies (which, if the shining sequences are anything to go by, should already exist within some simulation, and if not, it’s not like it would be that difficult to do…) but surely, wade’s got more ideas than MORE 80s references, right?
of course he does. he wants to live in a big mansion, and to not worry about money anymore. while it’s understandable for a teen living in poverty (although, for someone who’s impoverished, even pre-key finding he doesn’t seem to have any of the struggles that impoverished people that i know have) to want to escape that, it seems to be about where his happiness begins and ends. it’s all a game, and he wants to win, and get rewarded. that’s how it should work; that’s how everyone in this movie preaches that it will work.
another rejected one-liner with this movie is that nolan sorrento frequently seems like a stand-in for spielberg himself. nolan poses as being genuinely interested in the subject material (such as him trying to negotiate with wade, and then later saying he doesn’t care about oasis at all as far as his experiences go), just as spielberg appears to be pretentiously touching upon a culture which he seems to be completely isolated from. knowing what a walkthrough is and mis-defining what an easter egg is aren’t really going to cut it in that regard. i’m not going to say it’s a sort of cultural appropriation or anything like that, but this is definitely poseur material – and unlike a film like Gamer which is also just as wildly inaccurate, this one appears to take itself substantially more seriously as an adaptation to this world.
but what, pray tell, is cline or spielberg trying to say? like i said, wade and nolan really aren’t that different. the end of the movie is wade learning to care less about the oasis and to instead revel in his riches while he does nothing for the working class, which… i mean, is what nolan wanted all along. both of their capitalist pursuits have similar end-results, which i mean, most capitalist pursuits do i guess. this is a pretty typical liberal narrative though so i can’t single it out too much i guess. in fact, while watching this i was reminded of Jurassic World’s narrative, starting out as a film making fun of the dumb masses for wanting to see genetically modified dinosaurs before subsequently abandoning that idea entirely to show us genetically modified dinosaurs. also, i’ll throw out here that wade’s pursuits aren’t any different than his villainous step-uncle or whatever; the key difference being that wade is a REAL g4m3r and his uncle is just an ol’ b055man69, or, in other terms, wade happens to be good at a video game that his uncle isn’t, though they make the same sacrifices for their obsessions. as someone who is actually kind of decent at a video game, this is preposterous thinking.
yet another silly one-liner i would have left could have been “wow thanks spielberg for interrupting the one good 80s song in the whole movie” when blue monday cuts to stayin alive. i wasn’t really considering it before, but i think this film’s editing is too erratic for it to not have happened at least a couple of times. the overlapping of STUFF happening is done in the worst of ways; while maximalist vulgar auteurism is all about overwhelming excitement and sloppy content, this seems like polished consumerism to the highest degree. the slew of references, from what i’m aware of from the book, are somehow lessened here but are no less cringeworthy every time they occur; this is on top of spielberg’s typically horrible snappy screenplays, to have me audibly groaning to my fellow audience members more than, and this is no exaggeration, at least the last 100 movies i’ve seen combined.
i previously mentioned how this film’s maximalism feels way too polished to be messy, but i mean there’s a lot of ways that this falls short of most of the great stuff out of that canon. i’ll again reference Gamer, which i don’t even really like that much, and admire its onslaught of colors (which are genuinely mismatched to hell and back) and its abandonment of finer detail or heavy explanations. in RPO, instead what we get are a lot of half-explanations to, what are more likely, very complex ideas (who is a level 99 wizard? if TJ miller’s character already is one, then why even bring it up at all? if H dies, do her possessions also disappear? how often do the races in the first section of the film happen? why are there only a few dozen people in them, if oasis is a world-wide game with billions of people competing for billions of dollars? if getting killed means you lose the keys, then why don’t the sixers try past their first assassination attempt to kill the frequently-undisguised-despite-art3mis-mentioning-it-so-there-can-be-a-superman-reference high fivers? on that note, why doesn’t anyone? if there are “cameras” in a lot of places in this world, why were there none in any of the races where the high five won?). i understand that plots aren’t always that important in all-out genre pics like this, but i mean, at what point can you call something out which is supposed to have real meaning(tm) on its huge sum of logical ineptitude? as inaccurate and hokey as things like Resident Evil: Retribution and Crank are, i never get the feeling that they’re anything but anarchic genre pictures which wholly embrace their zaniness, as opposed to far more self-serious works like this or The Dark Knight Rises.
so if this film makes no sense in what it’s trying to say, has no idea what it’s about, and compromises whatever maximalist pleasures one can get out of it by simply trying to be an actual dramatic venture on top of its sci-fi ambitions, then surely it’s got to have some nice aesthetics, right? well, as you all know, this is pretty subjective. there are some genuinely cool setpieces in this film, but ultimately its structure doesn’t allow these to transcend any of them: this is pretty much a superhero movie in every sense of its beats and rhythm, fit with the big battle conclusion thingy where civilians ‘die’ so that the rich (in oasis) gifted hero can become more rich and even more gifted. as such, this is where things like the first race scenes and the end battle ones – competent action directing on its own – really start to suffer. this film is about as formally experimental as Captain America: CIvil War, and as such, any thrills that the action scenes produce are ultimately left to be discarded at the risk of ruining the buildup for the next one.
oh, and on the whole deaths thing: can we talk about how two confirmed people, and multiple unnamed others, died in a terrorist attack, which then goes unmentioned for the remainder of the film? wade wakes up in the care of samantha, where he flirts with her a little bit and they talk about more nerd culture or something, and they’re quickly back on the hunt with no explanation or catharsis. it’s one thing to call the film out on wade’s lack of care for other people, but it’s another thing when the film seems to consciously feel similarly. wade’s call to action of the masses to go to doom island or planet or whatever and risk losing their virtual lives felt almost laughable by this point considering how nobody in the film seems to care about the actual lives lost.
i recently read a number of summary posts on the book, because i already don’t read books very much and i wasn’t about to change that with this one, so i don’t feel the huge need to bring up the things that are more or less unchanged from their in terms of their negative qualities (like how grating the pop culture references are, how annoying wade is as a person, its praise of a sci-fi nerd kazillionaire as a deity of sorts, etc.), and i’m happy that spielberg was able to successfully adapt such challenging aspects of the book to the big screen, but also he does change quite a bit. a key here is different from the key in the book, the ending is different, wade isn’t as weird about art3mis as he was in the novel, etc. but what does this really amount to? instead of playing an arcade game in some dungeon, we get a horribly contrived Shining sequence and a romance that is so milquetoast and blase that i’m shocked it didn’t leap out from the silver screen and scream some normie’s tinder bio. what was initially a problematic yet, at the very least, interesting romance, has become neither of those things, and in a film that goes for 140 minutes and at least 140 million dollars, it desperately needs the latter quality.
seriously i mean for Master Craftsman Steven Spielberg(tm), how can something’s technical elements be so woefully boring? the pacing is so breakneck that it loops around and becomes uninteresting because so much STUFF(tm) happens, the score (and, while we’re on that, the soundtrack) is actively abhorrent, there are some genuinely wonky sound aspects (in terms of mixing and how it was stereo’d throughout the theater) that i can appreciate but that’s sort of par for the course for any huge blockbuster like this. the visuals themselves, while in oasis, remind me of all those bad cgi movies from my childhood which i have no reverence for, and those outside of this playground-turned-product are as dull and uninspired as anything else spielberg has done for the last ten years or so. and i know i love to rag on spielberg, but this doesn’t even feel like his film – there’s some daddy issues and some sentimentality in it towards the end, but this feels like anyone in the business of doing big pictures could have done this. a somewhat long one-take at the beginning that i’ve seen variants of dozens of times in these types of movies at the start is about all i have to compare it to with his other ventures.
and this brings me to my final one-liner: it’s so bad that it out-bads spielberg and becomes unrecognizable.