I have a lot of opinions concerning this movie, so I apologize if this review goes a bit off the rails, or sounds all over the place. There were parts of this movie I very much enjoyed and some other parts that annoyed me to no end. Another warning, some of my complaints will be pointless nerd rages about them getting references and easter eggs wrong. Those do not really impact my review of the movie, but I am a giant nerd and need to vent about them. I will try to keep talk about that stuff to a minimum and focus mostly on the quality of the film.
Let’s start with the stuff I liked. I actually love the animation style. I know many have criticized the computer animation, which makes up most of this movie, but I liked how the world inside the Oasis looked. I also enjoyed much of the action in the movie. It was mostly mindless, with no real consequences, but it was fun.
Many of the references were fun. I cracked up when Chucky from Child’s Play showed up as a usable weapon to release onto your enemies. The hotel from The Shining showing up was great, even if they didn’t really use it to its fullest potential. King Kong and T Rex were cool, even if they didn’t have any real impact, and it was fun looking in the background for other references like the Battle Toads, the Ninja Turtles, Freddy Krueger, Duke Nukem, etc. And the references did not feel like a crutch to the movie. The trailer made it seem like the entire movie would just be a nostalgia fest, with no substance, but the cameos were more or less seasoning on top of the narrative/ adventure, they were trying to tell. Most of the references are background stuff, and the stuff that is front and center rarely feels forced, but instead a natural part of the world in this movie.
And now onto the stuff I did not like, starting with the dialogue. The movie starting out with five minutes of narration was not a good sign. On top of that, the movie felt the need to use so much repetitive dialogue, explaining things we already understand. For example, we learn that the main character, Wade Watts, lost both his parents, in the opening narration. But then later he mentions he has no parents again in the narration. And then his Aunt and her boyfriend also bring it up in a really matter of fact way as if they are informing the audience his parents are dead. We get it, he is an orphan, you only had to tell us once.
They also have to explain multiple times that Wade has a full VR suit, that lets him feel if someone touches him. They repeat the explanation of this, and the name of the suit, several times. These are not the only two examples of the movie over explaining everything. It was a recurring trend that ticked me off every time it came up. A message to film studios, audiences are not as dumb as you think we are. You can tell us stuff, and we will usually remember us. You do not need to explain in detail how everything works to us, and you damn sure do not need to repeat those details a second time.
Even when the dialogue is not just repeating exposition they already told us, it feels stilted at times.Part of it can be chalked up to these characters being awkward, but it is also in part because of bad writing.
Also, it is super convenient that all the characters that met online in the Oasis just happened to all live right next to each other. Wade Watts lives in Columbus Ohio. I can buy his love interest, Samantha, or as her Avatar is known, Artemis, living in Columbus as well. Because in this movie Artemis is already part of a rebellion against IOI, and their headquarters are in Columbus. These things are all a little convenient, but I can buy into them for the sake of the narrative. What I cannot buy into is Aech, Diato, and Sho all showing up in Columbus out of the blue. The High 5, as this group is known in the books, come together in the book as well, but there they explain that Og sent transport for them to meet up. In this movie, they just show up as if they were right around the corner the whole time. They explain it by saying Artemis sent them texts telling them to come, but they show up a minute after we see her send the text, all already together. It was way too convenient for me to just let go. How did they all get together, right where they need to be, that quick? Too many stupid, “because movie”, moments for me to handle.
The plot also feels super rushed. There are certain times where they slow the pace down, but other times where it feels like the plot is on fast forward and they are just clumsily skipping through scenes to get to the more interesting parts. Which can sometimes work, but it feels poorly executed here. I know they had a lot to get to, but I cannot help but feel they could do a better job with the transitions between scenes. The book is at times too slow, and there is way too much time wasted in between finding the first and second key. But here, they go in the opposite direction, going too fast in between the set pieces, and not properly setting up how they get there.
There is a scene where a bunch of people are on the street wearing the VR Goggles. How the hell are they able to walk around and not bump into everything? Then later, they are on the street fighting people in the game, but not hitting anyone in the real world. The VR stuff makes sense when the characters are on a track, or tethered into something. But people walking around in public wearing the goggles makes no sense. I would have like to see one of them accidentally punch someone in the real world in the face.
Now that I got my actual complaints out of the way, allow me to vent about one specific reference that annoyed me. I love Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. I was so happy when they threw in a reference with one of the characters buying The Holy Hand Grenade. But then they used it and did not count to three. Were there no nerds like me on the set who remember the quote from The Holy Grail about the Holy Hand Grenade verbatim? Because anyone who has watched that movie knows that before one throws the Holy Hand Grenade, they have to count to 3. Just take a look at this verse from the Book of Armaments.
“First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.”
Wade did not count to three before he threw it, he didn’t count at all. He just haphazardly threw the thing, with no concern for the rules that were clearly stated in the Book of Armaments, Chapter 4, Verses 16 to 20. For a character is supposedly a master of nerd culture, he should know to count to three. He is lucky he did not kill himself throwing the hand grenade without counting to three. And yes, I know complaining about something so pointless is, well, pointless. It is a very minor thing. But would it have killed them to have Wade count to three, and then throw it. It surely would have been appreciated by some people. Attention to these minor details can make a movie better. I am ashamed to admit I got upset during this scene in the movie, but it is what it is. I cannot help who I am. I did not care that the Iron Giant was killing people, I did not care about some other things that were not canon to these references, but this very specific reference upset me for some reason.
Overall, I feel very conflicted. I think I enjoyed the movie, but I also see the potential for it to be so much more. With better dialogue, and less convenient plot points, this could have been a very good blockbuster film, but as it stands, it is just average. If you are a giant nerd like I am, you will probably like the movie, and even if you are not a nerd, you may still enjoy it. It is fun when it tries to be, it is just a bit underwhelming overall.