Andrew is inactive’s review published on Letterboxd:
Well, that'll teach me to never doubt The Beard again.
I've been apprehensive about this film since, well, it was announced. I haven't read the book but based on what I've heard it just seemed an odd choice for Spielberg to adapt. Both of Cline's books are often described as jacking off to 80s nostalgia for 300+ pages and given that Spielberg helped define the culture of that era it just seemed weird. Would he play it straight or use it as some kind of meta-commentary of his career?
In the end it seems like he pretty much had his cake and ate it too, which is kind of a problem? I mean it is kind of hard to take the moralizing about spending more time in the real world seriously when the movie dedicates so much time to showing you all the characters they licensed for this thing, but in a weird way it still kind of really works. I can definitely understand any and all complaints here since this movie really does bludgeon you with all its pop culture references.
I didn't grow up in the 80s, hell I don't even clearly remember a time before 9/11, I was born in 1997, so, for the most part, the whole 80s nostalgia craze our culture is currently in (even among some people my age weirdly) just doesn't do anything for me. There were good movies, sure, but also plenty of shitty ones that don't really hold up other than on a nostalgia level. Honestly it doesn't seem that much more interesting than any other decade of art. Like Ghostbusters is a funny movie sure, but I'd hardly call it one of the greatest the medium has ever seen, so while everyone else freaked out about some abomination of cinema I just shrugged and saw just another mediocre remake of a nostalgia property.
Interestingly Spielberg seems to have added a lot of references to newer stuff, particularly newer games or the Iron Giant which is from the 90s. None of it got me like excited, but there were more than a few that made me think "that was pretty cool." I will say that final scene with pretty much all of them was pretty fun on just a novelty level and will probably be the point where most either decide they love or hate this. The best thing about this movie though is that, like say Wreck-it Ralph or Lego Movie, the movie isn't dependant on these references to be enjoyable, the movie stands on its own, you don't have to know any of the references to have a fun time watching this. The exposition filled opening is pretty rough, and some of the characterization is weak (particularly on the lead) Spielberg does do a great job capturing what made a lot of his 80s films so fun and not just in a "I understood that reference" level, and I loved the animation on the OASIS itself, you really don't get much like that from Western animation and I'd love to see an animated film in purely that style. In spite of the characterization the actors are all really good here, particularly Mark Rylance perhaps channeling Spielberg's inner monologue while Ben Mendelsohn reprises his role as Director Krennic, which is fun, though what makes it better is A. his in-game avatar looks like Senator Armstrong from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, and B. he's basically playing the CEO of EA, which made his comeuppance all the more satisfying. Fuck EA. Really could have done without TJ Miller though.
I'm honestly surprised that this has been the most fun I've had at the movies all year, a title which I expected Pacific Rim 2 to maintain (in retrospect I may have overrated, but I still think is pretty fun). There are some real lows here but Spielberg tries out a lot of new weird things which, at the very least, make this an interesting failure.