Hey there, it’s me. I’m alive! I’m just having trouble motivating myself to write movie reviews, especially when the films are such snores. What I am doing is a) preparing to move once again (it’s been real, Chicago) and b) writing Arthurian fiction (getting Book 2 out, which lays all of my existential pondering across a framework of actual Arthurian legend, and is, frankly, a lot more interesting than Pacific Rim: Uprising (and this movie). Check It Out!). Anyway, it’s a new Spielberg film, and it’s sci-fi, and it promises to be his take on virtual reality and gaming and pop culture!
I was pretty excited about this one, until I remembered that I walked out of the last two Spielberg films (Bridge of Spies and The Post) because they were just so square and boring, and that the last Spielberg movie I thought was good was War of the Worlds, and that, whatever has happened in filmmaking in the intervening years, he comes off looking pretty square nowadays. I was wondering if he would open up within the videogame, but then I thought “No, he’s quite square,” and sure enough, we open with a title telling us the setting, then a whole exposition dump, and then we enter the game. Quite straightforward and dull.
Quickly, it’s 2045, our hero lives in a place of piled-up trailers, and everyone spends most of their time in a virtual reality world called The Oasis. The creator of it left a quest hidden within it to find three keys, which will grant the winner millions and control of the game. Oh, and there’s an evil corporation that wants to win and they do evil things. So we keep switching between being in the game and the real world, as our characters seek to win the game before the evil corporation does.
So it goes along for a while, and you’re dutifully semi-impressed by the visuals, but after an hour or so (with over an hour left) I started to lose track and what was going on where, real-world or virtual, and… just stopped caring. Then, as it continued, I started to ask: Where are the ideas? There are just no ideas here. Mentioning a lot of pop culture is not the same thing is having a perspective on it. Showing a future world is not the same as making comment on it. This material (for I sense that many of the problems originate in the book) has some topics… like that the evil corporation employs a bunch of people to review all of the pop culture that the creator of the game viewed, but… it doesn’t analyze them, it doesn’t offer a perspective on them. Yes, we have a lot of people for whom knowledge of pop culture has replaced “knowledge” as we used to know it, but… do you have anything to SAY about that? Just pointing it out is not enough.
And as it continues, you realize that the whole movie doesn’t have a single idea in its overstuffed little head. And you also start to see that in the real world, we’re slowly drifting into an extremely lame and clichéd movie with a multi-ethnic group of earnest kids who are going to bring the mean baddies down! By the time we have shots of a group of the public cheering the televised victory of the hero over the evil corporation, I realized: This movie is a full-out STINKER.
Special mention must also be made of the fact that the hero’s entire family is killed and he has forgotten it and moved on seconds later.
We used to look to Spielberg for intelligent comment… AI, Minority Report, War of the Worlds… all of them came out with sort of a “Now our foremost filmmaker will lay down some truth about…” whatever it was. And they stood up. This one is sold on that promise (and the stink of desperation wafts from every frame), but there IS NOT A SINGLE IDEA IN IT. Walking through a comic book shop is not the same as gaining some understanding of how we allowed pop culture to take over our discourse, how we have a generation of people who think pop culture is so important, and what any of it means. Instead, we get a SHOCKINGLY FACILE concluding message that is basically “balance screen time with physical activity!”
Anyway, a stinker. If this movie made you think anything, let me know in the comments.