A Star is Born (2018)

Star.jpgDirector: Bradley Cooper

Screenwriters: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, and Dave Chappelle

Let me first get this out of the way for all of you scientists out there. This is not a movie about huge clouds of dust and gas collapsing under their own gravity until the particles are so densely compacted that they fuse into a celestial body and…a star is born. This deceptively titled film is about a popular Americana singer falling in love with young unknown songstress, and her subsequent rise to fame as a pop star.

A Star is Born stars Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, a massively popular musical act who is over the peak of his fame. His fans are fervent, but his shows are routine, his hearing is going, and let’s just say he has a bit of a drinking problem. After one of his shows (and a bottle of whiskey), Jackson slinks into an underground bar in search of further libations. To his surprise, it’s a drag bar and the singers there are star-struck by his presence. While the bar caters mostly to drag singers, Ally (Lady Gaga), a former waitress at the bar is permitted to sing there since her voice is so incredible. During a remarkable rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” Jackson is hooked by her talent, look, and style leading him to want to meet her. After a romantic night of stories and songs, Jackson is inspired and he invites her to perform with him, catapulting her from an unknown club songstress to a mainstream sensation.

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A Star is Born is an example of a subsection of film where execution, talent, and polish supersede familiar and uninspired storylines. Films like Avatar, Flight, and Straight Outta Compton come to mind in that you know precisely where every beat is, but the journey through the familiar territory is worth the predictability. The rise and fall of a superstar and the spiral downward is a time-told tale, so time-told in fact that this exact story has hit the big screen three times before, once in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, once in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and perhaps most famously in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. This time however, in the capable hands of first-time director Bradley Cooper, the story remains the same, but new life is breathed into it thanks to some vibrant direction and incredible on-screen talent and chemistry. Cooper does attempt a few curve balls in here to try to liven the story up a bit, but to no real effect. Cooper is a true student of film, however, and his first directorial effort being a remake of a classic is an ideal choice. His choices are deliberate, and the film is full of examples of film theory ranging between classic Hollywood and a modern approach. As an actor, Cooper adopts a twangy gravelly grumble reminiscent of Clint Eastwood that I did find a bit distracting. While A Star is Born is an impressive outing full of passion, Cooper has a masterpiece in him, but this is not quite that.

Lady Gaga is also impressive on screen. As I mentioned earlier, her “La Vie en Rose” number is one for the history books full of glamour, charisma, and charm. Her acting is still a little on the green side, but when she’s on the stage, which is often, she’s excellent and many of the songs that come out of this film are quite good including, “Shallow” and “Always Remember Us This Way.” Many of the musical scenes were famously filmed at Coachella and other music festivals where Cooper and Lady Gaga would do a set in character in order to capture the true enchantment of live music, and these scenes do pop. They also contrast so nicely with the inevitable corporate packaging that Ally is later made to suffer. One interesting point to be made is that Lady Gaga is literally the only woman acting is this film, Brandie Carlile is there for a moment (as herself), but there are no other women! Characters’ mothers are all dead, no sisters, no female friends, and in the early bar scene where Jackson discovers Ally, all the women are men (in drag). The film is also directed and written by only men. Not to say that there’s anything necessarily erroneous about this, but I feel some of the “been-there-done-that” of the film’s story may be the result of such a non-diverse cast and crew.

A Star is Born is a good movie with an excellent first-directional effort by Cooper, and an exceptional use of talent. There is a lot to appreciate about the film, and with the added layer of the music, the film rises above traditional fare. B+

A Star is Born is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes.

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The People’s Critic Heads to Broadway (in Chicago)

Hamilton-banner-e1512821797362Obviously, those of you who read my reviews have come to expect film reviews mostly, with a few books thrown in the mix. Today, I’m going to shake things up a bit with The People’s Critic’s first review of live theatre: Hamilton![1]

Since the first cadence of the Hamilton soundtrack for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, I was obsessed. For those of you who know my wife and me, I am not the one you’d say is the musical-theatre one in the relationship, but that all changed when a bastard, orphan son-of-a-whore and a Scotsman came on the stage.

Hamilton is the musical-spectacular from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda that hit Broadway in 2015 and subsequently won 11 Tonys. It is a sung and rapped through musical about the American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, and while it may be too soon to say definitively, it is one of the most revolutionary musicals to hit the main-stream with its broad musical style and what they call “color-conscious” casting of all non-white actors as many of the historical figures.

Jeanette and I had a trip to Chicago planned with our friends Eric and Pam, and we were able to get tickets to the Chicago production of the show that has been running at the CIBC theatre since 2016. Suffice it to say, it “blew us all away.”

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Having high expectations is often a recipe for disaster when it comes to entertainment. That coupled with the pricey ticket cost, the value of time spent as parents of toddlers, and the village of grandparents and babysitters it takes for us to “take a break” without the kids prompts the highest of expectations. That being said, the show is that good.

Hamilton opens on a relatively open stage with some wood scaffolding that remains on stage the entire play. The floor is equipped with a rotating platform that enhances some of the drama involving the duels, the dancing, and several other key points, but overall for a musical so highly regarded, the set is fairly simple.

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The casting was also surprisingly minimal. After listening to the soundtrack so many times, I expected quite the ensemble of actors; however, it turns out it is typical for the actors to play several parts, even several main parts, since with the way the play develops some characters do not share scenes (or even acts for that matter). Our Alexander Hamilton was actually the understudy (Philip Johnson-Richardson), who was standing in for Miguel Cervantes who usually plays the role. I will admit, I was nervous to see an understudy and an understudy for the title role at that. Johnson also looked a little nervous at first when he took the stage after the now famous introduction by Aaron Burr (Akron Watson) in the opening number. However, those nerves were fleeting because Johnson came through in spades for our audience. In fact, the cast was truly outstanding. Now that I’ve seen this play live, one of the major revelations I had was that while the play is called Hamilton, the character of Alexander Hamilton is not who carries the show. Aaron Burr is really the power and presence of the show, singularly taking the stage multiple times and demonstrating a much broader range of emotion than any other character. Watson was dynamite as Burr in the production we saw, so much so that I think he would give Leslie Odom Jr. a run for his money on some of these songs. Furthermore, if I had to select a song that I would consider the best in the entire play, I would pick, “Wait for It,” a song which only involves Burr.

While “Wait for It” may be my favorite song to listen to and appreciate, upon seeing the play, my favorite scene to see was definitely the backward/forward combination stunner of “Helpless” and “Satisfied” where we see Angelica Schuyler introduce Alexander Hamilton to her sister Eliza but then rewind the action and lament her reasoning and decision to not pursue him herself. It’s a powerful combo of perspectives and song styles, but also a whimsical staging that surpasses even the imagination.

The play overall, told in two acts, is truly a roller coaster of emotion. Act I takes us along on Hamilton’s rise and subversion of barriers preventing our young country from taking shape and eventually flourishing, and Act II takes us on the emotional journey through his tragic fall from grace, a fall that no knowledge of history can truly prepare us to experience. The play is very much a tragedy. That being said fun, humor, and romance are all critical elements to the play, but like the best of Shakespeare’s works, the tragedy is what Miranda’s masterpiece leaves us pondering. Most importantly, the impact of this tragedy is not just because of our attachment to these characters, but because of the subtexts for how cruel political ideology, racism, and gun violence are damaging and yet also a seemingly permanent thread of the American fabric. It’s hard not to feel “helpless,” and that we may never be “satisfied.” Still we are also left with the inert optimism of the human condition to not throw away our shot when the time comes to act. With that, tragedy begets inspiration, which I believe is the most empowering feeling art can impart on us. #Voting #VoterReg2018 A+

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[1] My apologies to the other ThePeoplesCritic, whom I know is a theatre reviewer. You can rest assured my access to quality theatre is abysmal, so your namesake is secure. This is but a singular overlap of our People’s Criticism.

The Meg

MEGDirector: Jon Turtletaub

Screenwriters: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber

Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, and Masi Oka

When a movie nails expectations, even expectations that are modest and purposefully withdrawn, does that mean it’s good? This is the question we must ask ourselves when describing The Meg, the latest crazy summer shark movie.

The Meg follows a Naval marine biologist played by Jason Statham (just go with it) named Jonas Taylor. After a mishap during a top secret exploratory mission in the Mariana Trench, Taylor is disgraced having abandoned half his crew and aborting his mission due to his sighting of a 70-foot long shark-like creature that no one else saw. Believing he was crazy or that the decompression sickness had made him delusional, Taylor is dishonorably discharged from his Naval position and from the project.

Five years later a submersible and crew are lost in the same area of the Trench where Taylor believed he saw the massive sea monster. The Naval research group privately funded by billionaire, Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) has yielded some results, discovering a completely new ecosystem below the originally perceived base of the Mariana Trench. This ecosystem is protected by a cloud of gasses allowing the temperature below the cloud to support abundant sea life. Believed to be the only person on earth with the experience and training at such a depth, Taylor is hesitantly recruited back to assist with the search and rescue for the lost submersible. Reluctantly, Taylor agrees in the hopes to regain his honor and prove that the creature exists. Guess what? It does.

The Meg proceeds like every monster movie, only this one is in the ocean. The Meg (short for Megalodon) escapes the depths via a plume of warmer temperature water created by the Naval submersibles penetrating the gas cloud. Now, free to roam the Pacific, Taylor and his crew must attempt to capture the beast before it can cause catastrophic consequences to mankind. The film is actually a lot of fun. Taylor’s team includes all the archetypes we love to see mix it up: the fallen hero, the corporate businessman, the misinformed expert, and the strong-headed scientist, and a Terrier named Pippin.

The Meg is mostly brain candy. It’s like a Michael Bay movie before he totally lost his mind. The performances are weak, the premise is silly, and the story is predictable, but that’s what I thought it would be, and that’s kind of what I wanted it to be. So is it good. The short answer is, yes. The silly premise is not unlike most films in the genre, which is serviceable that some event allows this merging of worlds. It’s nearly 2 hours, but it’s a pretty tight 113 minutes. Most importantly, nearly all of the $130 million dollar budget appears to have been used on the shark, and it works. There are a nice pile of quality visuals presented here. The film has a clear intention of devouring Chinese box offices as well setting an outstanding and highly anticipated scene where the Meg terrorizes a busy beach of swimmers in China instead of San Diego as it happens in the book (yes this is an adaptation of a novel!).meg+banner

My overall point, is I’m a sucker for shark movies, and I like the popcorn element of this one more than many in recent years. I also like Jason Statham in this film, who is underrated in his ability to mix humor and action. He’s done this marvelously in films like Snatch and Spy, but here he does it in a movie that does not begin with the letter “S.” Hopefully this review has successfully communicated the esoteric appeal of this film, but if you fit the niche, dive in! B+

The Meg is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

MI6Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

This summer’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout represents the completion of the second trilogy of the Mission Impossible franchise. The first trilogy’s films are simply titled with subsequent installment numbers (1, 2, and 3), but the second trilogy rejected the number scheme for a more ambitious title sequence (Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, Fallout). Not only did the naming scheme become more ambitious, but the stunt sequences and set pieces also got more impressive in each successive volume, and Fallout is no exception!

Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dealing with the “fallout” that follows Hunt’s capture of Syndicate leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Lane’s group, The Syndicate, has reorganized with a terrorist group known as the Apostles, and their plot for creating a new world order through a series of catastrophic terrorist events is still in play. Guided by a chilling refrain, “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace,” the Apostles obtain three plutonium cores in order to construct three nuclear weapons. Hunt is now on a race against time with his loyal IMF team, Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and testosterone-tag-on August Walker (Henry Cavill), an agent forced on Hunt by CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) to keep Hunt accountable. MI6 specialist, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) rounds out the crew, now with loyalties firmly with Hunt and IMF’s camp; her identify crisis from Rogue Nation between MI6 and IMF is seemingly resolved. In fact, going back to the title, one can not overlook the fact that this film, in the original naming scheme, would have been MI6.

As I mentioned, this film has some of the most spectacular action sequences of the entire

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Just another day as Ethan Hunt

franchise, or perhaps of the action genre as a whole. I will not spoil anything, but I can not write a review without mentioning that there is a helicopter chase through the mountainous region of Kashmir that will blow you away. That’s right, a helicopter chase.

Stunt spectaculars aside, Fallout is most impressively a true sequel. This is the first Mission Impossible film to resurrect an old villain, and it is the first to carry the female lead into the next installment. This sense of connectedness gives the film more reach and significance in the series than the previous films, which could essentially be mixed up and played in any order. The success of this film’s story, pacing, and strength relies heavily on its writer/director, Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie has aligned himself with Cruise now on five separate projects as either writer, director, or both. More significantly as writer/director of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he is the first to helm two installments in the series; an impressive feat in a series of films with directors like Brian DePalma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams. The decision to stick with McQuarrie appears to be a good one, and to champion that, I would like to emphasize a quote from my 2015 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation review that is just as appropriate today as it was then, “This time McQuarrie ‘rounds up the usual suspects,’ and puts together this year’s best action film that does not involve super powers or dinosaurs.” That’s right, 2018 is basically 2015 [brief pause while your minds explode!].

The film also gets a lot of help from its capable ensemble cast. Everyone pitches in and has a moment to shine. Cruise is obviously the central role, but he does not get to steal the whole show. The bumbling antics in the film’s first act between Cruise and Cavill are as entertaining and engaging as anything else in the film. I wanted to find fault with these scenes, but I couldn’t. Mission: Impossible – Fallout complicates the classic movie conversation about those sequels that outshine their originals. Now we have a fifth entry that was superior to its predecessors only to then be outdone by the sixth!

Two key thematic elements within Mission: Impossible – Fallout are time and destruction for the sake of improvement. The film seems to use these themes to meta-style reference itself in that Fallout while representing the culmination of a trilogy, feels like the beginning of something else. Fallout takes some massive swings at the way things have previously been in the franchise making way for some major shifts ahead in future missions that I hope Hunt and company choose to accept. A

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 27 minutes. There is no post-credits scene; this movie decided to have its ending be the ending!

RBG

RBGDirectors: Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Cast: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Jane Ginsburg, and Bill Clinton

For Mother’s Day this year, I gave my mom the greatest gift one can give: a night out with me! Of course, a night out with me means the movies will be involved. But what to see? The Cineplex is just bursting with options this time of year from tent pole mega blockbusters to sleeper studio genre pieces, but my mom, the ever-bleeding-heart liberal, says, “Is the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary playing anywhere around here?” And yes, it was. So onward we walked, past the Deadpools and Oceans, past the Solos and Incredibles, past the Jurassic Parks and Avengers, into the tiny auxiliary theater with folding chairs and a draped curtain surrounding an 80” screen, as it should be. This is one of several documentaries out right now making a splash, and I hope the trend continues.

When the lights dimmed, my eyes were greeted to the petite, wiry Ginsburg in the midst of a pretty intense physical training session, a workout routine she performs regularly and one that she has made available to the public courtesy of her trainer, Bryant Johnson. The point being, this tiny, frail-looking woman is tougher than you think.

Ginsburg, or “The Notorious RBG” as she’s come to be known, is just the documentary subject we need right now. Whether that’s for political reasons, for women’s empowerment reasons, or simply because she’s an interesting person doing an interesting job, her life warrants our attention.

The quote, “I ask no favor of my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” bookends the film. This quote, attributed to abolitionist, Sarah Grimké and made by Ginsburg in her first argument before the Supreme Court in 1973, perfectly reflects the attitude of RBG and its subject. This is a woman whose career was made removing the proverbial foot of the powerful off of the necks of the oppressed.

The documentary is quite linear, and nicely arranges the details of Ginsburg’s life beginning with her childhood and spanning her legal career to the present. Of course, much time is spent exploring Ginsburg’s cases and her ascension to the Court (and her love for opera), but the high points of the film for me are the scenes with her first love and husband, Martin. Their relationship is one for the history books, not that there’s anything about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that is not for the history books.

Political leanings aside, this is an inspirational film that champions ambition, hard work, and love. At the conclusion of RBG, my mom looked at me and said, “Boy, have I wasted a lot of time.” And I can’t think of a better sentiment for this film to leave us with – a desire to enjoy life, pursue happiness, and actively participate in our society. A

RBG is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.

Avengers: Infinity War

AIWDirectors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Not Ant Man, not Hawkeye…everybody else is in there somewhere, and Josh Brolin

Is it the biggest movie ever? As of “press time,” the box office for Avengers: Infinity War is about to cross the $1 B mark, making it potentially the fastest movie to $1 B ever. But the real question is, is it the best Marvel movie ever? The short answer is no, but it’s in the top 5!

Avengers: Infinity War is the mega-anticipated culmination of 10 years of Marvel Studio films. It was originally billed as simply a part 1 of a 2 part third installment to the Avengers franchise; however last summer, Marvel backed away from that idea, simply naming this film Avengers: Infinity War. A wise move, as Infinity War is a complete film, and while we know an untitled fourth Avengers film will be released next May, calling this a “part 1,” would do nothing but add a stigma to what it accomplishes independently in the genre.

“Infinity War” refers to a conflict that has been brewing since the first Avengers film opened back in 2012. Essentially, when the universe was created, 6 powerful gems were scattered throughout the universe, and if one were to possess all six, that he or she would essentially be an all knowing overlord to the entire universe. Each of the stones has been referenced one way or another in various Marvel films, and the being who seeks to obtain them all has also had his story woven throughout these films (mostly in post credit sequences). His name is Thanos (Josh Brolin), and when Avengers: Infinity War opens, he has acquired a magic gauntlet that has been forged precisely to be adorned by all six stones. So, why does he want them? Assuming that Thanos’s reputation does not precede him, he believes that there has to be balance between life and death and currently “life” is in excess, so in order bring balance into to universe he plans to essentially kill half of the universe. Now for such a huge task Thanos needs god like power, and the one who holds the infinity gauntlet with 6 gems embedded in it will have god like powers. Hence he needs all the 6 infinity stones.

This sounds like a job for the Avengers, and it would be except, if you remember last time we saw them, they were not getting along so great. The “Civil War” has effectively disbanded the Avengers, and while they are all doing their best to protect Earth from interplanetary attacks, no one was expecting one of this magnitude to happen anytime soon. Thanos is coming, and has band of cronies are searching the universe high and low for each infinity stone, two of which happen to be currently located on Earth.

That’s the conflict in a nutshell, but the film is epically bigger than this simple explanation leads you to believe. Like all of Marvel’s best films, Infinity War is a careful mix of action, adventure, humor, and style. Wisely, producer Kevin Feige tapped the director duo responsible for the best Marvel film ever, Captain America: The Winter Soldier to direct Avengers: Infinity War. Anthony and Joe Russo also directed the excellent Captain America: Civil War, so they were more than ready to tackle a true Avengers film. Now the news on this film was all over the place from, “there are too many characters,” to, “they’re all going to die,” to “this is all a ploy to get our money,” and the reality is that, none of this is true. Remember back in 2012 when Marvel’s Avengers came out, and everyone was saying, “how in the world will they balance a film with all six Avengers in it?” Look how that turned out. Now here we are six years later, 13 films further, and predictably with twice as many main characters, but no damage is done. In fact, I wager Avengers: Infinity War is the best of the three Avengers films, just barely edging out the original. The immenseness of the stakes in this film are only rivaled by the vastness of its scope. Everything you loved about The Avengers is here in this third film along with the vast epic nature of a Star Wars film. The Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely flawlessly balance the top-heavy cast by somehow giving us more than we expected of our favorite characters and still leaving us wanting more. Furthermore, with a running time of 2 hours and 29 minutes, this film lines right up with the running times of each of the previous Avengers films. Additionally, in a film about hidden gems, Avengers: Infinity War is full of hidden little Easter Eggs for the film franchise lover, the comic book reader, and even the Arrested Development watcher that give the film a heavily re-watchable appeal.

Still the fact that I just wrote a movie review without mentioning any of the central characters specifically, save for Thanos, shows you that this is no kind of character study. And while a film with this much going on can not match up to the strength of the more genre-bending, cinematic, and inspired entries in the franchise, Infinity War does offer some emotional punch that few Marvel films have managed to provide, allowing it to just barely outshine its predecessors. Yet another feather in the MCU cap, and another crowd-pleasing and laudable summer blockbuster. A-

Avengers: Infinity War is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 29 minutes. Stay until the end for one post-credits sequence that sets up at least 2 upcoming 2019 MCU films.

The Rundown – An Updated List of the People’s Critic’s Rankings of the MCU Films

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A

Thor: Ragnarok – A

Iron Man 3 – A

Avengers: Infinity War – A-

Marvel’s The Avengers – A-

Captain America: Civil War – A-

Iron Man – A-

Black Panther – A-

Avengers: Age of Ultron – A-

Captain America: The First Avenger – B+

Thor – B+

Spider-Man: Homecoming – B+

Ant-Man – B+

Iron Man 2 – B

The Incredible Hulk – B

Thor: The Dark World – B

Guardians of the Galaxy – B-

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – C+

Doctor Strange – C+

Ready Player One

readyplayerone-tributeposter-highres-backtothefutureDirector: Steven Spielberg

Screenwriters: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance

Ready Player One is the highly anticipated adaptation of author Ernest Cline’s best selling novel. The film opens with a shot of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a high school student living in Columbus, OH in the year 2044. We are introduced to Wade as he navigates his way down from his trailer at the stacks, a futuristic “projects” where trailers are “stacked” on top of each other to conserve space due to the widespread poverty being experienced. Energy and environmental crises have rendered the world mostly back to the stone age with petroleum-fuel a thing of the past and poverty running rampant. One advancement has managed to proliferate through the classes however, and that’s the Online virtual world known as the Oasis. The Oasis is a place where everyone can escape their reality by entering a virtual space where they can be anyone and do nearly anything. All you have to do is log on to the Oasis, invent your avatar, and you’re in!

The Oasis is mostly an entertainment device, but it does serve many practical purposes as well. With the infrastructure of the real world crumbling, the Oasis has become a place of commerce, communication, and even education (although exploration of this concept is curiously missing from the film adaptation). The Oasis is the biggest thing in the world and it has made its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a trillioniare. However, Halliday takes ill, and with no heir or even true friend to designate his estate, he releases a statement that he has hidden an Easter egg, or hidden object, deep within the Oasis. Whoever is first to find the egg will inherit everything.

Wade, under his avatar Parzival is one such egg hunter, known in the film as a “gunter,” a highly problematic term, if you ask me. Wade along with his friends whose avatars Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech, Daito, and Shoto are all attempting to seek out the hidden prize. This sets up an episodic adventure where Parzival travels through the Oasis searching for clues to lead him to various keys that help him unlock gates that will hopefully lead him to the egg. The catch is that in order to really play the game Halliday has laid out, it helps to know Halliday the man, which is to say you’d better know your 1980s pop culture, music, movies, and video games.

The antagonist of the film comes in the form of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who wants to inherit and monetize the Oasis. Sorrento hires players to search for the egg on his behalf in exchange for suiting up their avatars with the best suits, armors, weapons, credits, and access possible. These sell-out gamers come to be known as “sixers” due to the fact that all of their avatar names are actually just a series of numbers that start with sixes.

So, what’s the verdict? As it happens all too often for many a film reviewer, I am placed in the curious position of having to evaluate a film adapted from a novel that I just adored. So, while my final grade will reflect my core value’s stance of whether the film itself is worth your money as mainstream moviegoer, I must first speak to how the film measures up to the book’s greatness.

First of all, Spielberg is an appropriate choice for envisioning this book as a film. His career and impact on pop culture is precisely what Cline celebrates in his novel, and he does get a few things right here. One scene based on the concept from the book called a “flicksync” finds the characters of the film transported into a well-known film as part of their journey towards the egg. The massively meta and fabulous poster campaign had me hoping this would play a larger role however. This scene captures the spirit of the book brilliantly while also changing things up for book readers and still pleasing non book readers. Additionally, Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline himself are very successful in their treatment of envisioning IOI and especially Sorrento who is portrayed brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn. In fact most of the casting is quite good. Rylance is a very fine choice to play Halliday, and I daresay the film treatment of Sorrento’s eventual henchman iR0k (TJ Miller) is superior to the novel’s treatment. This can also be said for Art3mis who receives a more heroic portrayal in the novel than she perhaps had in the book.

That being said, the film mostly falls flat as an adaptation. The film’s focus diminishes the journey element that was so important to the book’s majesty, and instead simplifies the video game-centric quest plotline in favor of a cliché “resistance” storyline in the real world. Furthermore, the overall structure and complexity of the Oasis itself is marginalized. The crux of the novel is our understanding of this new environment as it unfolds. Its economy, its vastness, its rules, and most disappointingly its education system are all abandoned leaving the Oasis to appear cinematically as simply a game. I almost wish Spielberg had decided to take this project to Netflix or HBO in order to give it a longer play. Simon Pegg, who plays the Oasis’s co-creator Ogden Morrow, is also wasted, as much of his purpose from the book is left out leaving him quite flat as a character.

These gripes are clearly subjective, and Spielberg knew as well as anyone that many of these things had to be cut for a feature length film. Therefore, he did do one of the most bad-ass things a director of this film could do as a consolation, and that’s layer in tons of cinematic Easter eggs. There are numerous references to the various omissions I’ve just laid out all over this movie. It’s as if Spielberg is saying, “I know you love this book, but I can only include so much, so here’s a WarGames poster in the background and some fun Back to the Future imagery. The film’s ending, however is actually quite appropriate and rather clever. Some twists are implemented that work well, and overall there’s a lot to be entertained by in the final act. [Minor Spoiler Alert] However, those looking for that brilliant final “flicksync” in the end will be sadly disappointed, which really upset me; I mean the guy’s name is Parzival, how do you not go there!? [End of Minor Spoiler Alert] So here’s my take. This is a really fun movie overall. There are some great Spielbergian moments that play the nostalgia card, hard. However, the film does have its problematic moments regardless of your familiarity with the source material. What could have been a classic, instead is just kind of a pile of visuals with a story savagely butchered and left on life support. B

Ready Player One is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 19 minutes.