A movie by legendary director Steven Spielberg about 80's references. The time that made Spielberg a household name. People thought it was a perfect fit, get the guy who made the stuff being referenced to helm the magnum opus of references. It could have really worked out if not for one issue: Spielberg and other Hollywood suits don't get why those references are special. They don't understand the story that they're adapting and the nuances that make it special.
The first thing that stuck out to me was the 15-minute voice-over at the start. This movie likes to tell more than shows. It even ends with a voice-over, which is less egregious but proves this point. The characters like to tell you things instead of finding it out for yourself. It loses the ability to be nuanced and provide commentary about the world because it tells you straight up what it thinks. The movie makes it easy to sit back and turn off your brain. I'm not saying this is bad, you can decide for yourself, I just wanted to point it out.
The movie is gorgeous. Every scene with CGI was spectacular. I'm a sucker for really great visuals and this is no exception. Everything looked great and even looked real at times. The clothes on the characters and locations were really impressive while in stark contrast, the real-life shots seemed disgusting. This is due to tons of film grain making the scenes distracting. At first, I thought it was on purpose; that the crisp clear visuals of the digital world were supposed to contrast with the harsh ruggedness of real life, but the movie wasn't that smart. I think it was just Spielberg's dedication to film that created the divide. This is a small point of contention that most people probably wouldn't catch but I think it explains why I don't like this movie.
I'm not saying you shouldn't watch it, but I really didn't like it. Yes, the main selling point for some is there. References as far as the eye can see. References from modern gaming culture and classic movie culture dominate the screen space. You have Halo marines, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tracer from Overwatch, and all the other garbage I hated seeing. The movie doesn't get why the references are important, it just throws as many as it can up on the screen. It wanted to show you when the Gundam fights Mechagodzilla, not spending time developing characters.
It swaps out the well-intentioned story from the book and replaces it with one that follows tropes and doesn't push the boundary forward.
When I asked someone who likes the movie what they found appealing about it, they said: "It was entertaining; I wanted to see what happened next." Overall, Steven Spielberg did his job. He created a movie inundated with references and action spectacles to keep people wanting more. It chose action over real in-depth storytelling with characters that are paper thin. Not investing the time to build up the character relationships, wanting to jump straight into the spectacle. It boils down to boy meets pretty semi famous girl and falls for her immediately and people resisting a big scary company because they are too powerful. It sprinkles in the modern commentary about people being on their phones too much, but it was too disguised and heavy-handed. The closest I got to feeling like something was working, was at the very end with Mark Rylance giving a short monologue. It had a little bit of the spark that made the book so special.
I can't recommend that you read the book and I don't like the movie. It seemed too rushed which is funny to say because of its two hours and 19-minute runtime. But its probably fun to watch, at least everyone else in my theater liked it. How do I know that? They clapped and I hate it when people clap at an end of movies.
The references are supposed to be the hook that gets you interested in the movie. When watching the movie, its supposed to tell you a story about a disheveled future that's a little too real. It's supposed to subtly let you know that we should be fighting for happiness and making things right, here in the real world. I've seen a couple other people's reviews and not everyone gets this point because the movie doesn't really try to make it. The love story and fighting a giant corporation is supposed to be the easy part of the story to tell and not the main focus.
Everyone else seems to like the movie so I can't recommend you skip this one. You'll probably like it and that's fine. I guess I was expecting the movie to capture the book's spirit. I'm not complaining about all the story changes. I'm just disappointed it didn't have the TLC; the heart to tell a story about people finding real connections. It has all the makings of a modern-day blockbuster, I guess I'm just looking for different kinds of movies these days.