Sam’s review published on Letterboxd:
Disclaimer: I read the book and I don't think this has anything to do with the fact that this movie was....terrible.
I was really really hyped for it, and about 6 minutes in I realized something was a little off. It's one thing to change elements of a story, and add new features for surprise/simplicity, but it's another to retain key elements of the original plot as a framework for something else you've spun out of nowhere. The plot was just way too CONVENIENT and anticlimactic to be interesting or suspenseful or emotional. Honestly, it felt like a lot was missing. Like the director's cut is 4.5 hours long and this is all the highlights.
Some of it was actually funny - and the rest of it was entirely unnecessary. I-R0k? Creative that they made him a true villain, but he served no purpose other than "comedic relief" because he was one of the few people without a human actor counterpart. Wade and Sam? Way too serious, way too quick. It's hard to be invested in their story, which is a weirdly major part of the plot considering the most interesting elements of their world are literally everything else. The characters in general had little depth. Sorrento? Reminded me of the cheesy villains from The Muppet Movies (great films, but their characters have no place in this film). It was annoying and it was dumb, from what I could see through my eyes perpetually squinting in condescension.
I know Ernest Cline has a second credit for the screenplay, but it feels as if the film was an excuse to include all of the potential storylines for his book that were rejected by a publisher. Little details, alternate plot points, and inter-character relations that we didn't have time for were thrown together. Why would you even change anything when the book had fantastic material to work with? Just...a mess. Maybe Tim Albaugh ruined movies for me, but I am way more aware of BAD! SCREENWRITING! when I see it.
Visuals? Stunning. Better than Black Panther (by a lot, actually). Plot? A cringe-y trainwreck. Even worse than Black Panther. Literally, I watched Inception yesterday and had an easier time following some of those scenes.
Maybe I'm so critical because I had high expectations, but I'm entirely certain now that I was justified in having them. There was so much potential. This is just a bad movie and I'm not sure who to blame for it because someone needs to repent for letting an entire fandom down.