By Jack Dignan
One of the reasons Ready Player One works as well as it does is because the future presented in its depiction of 2045 is probably not going to be far from the reality. The world’s gone to shit. We’re overpopulated. So, with little left for us in the real world, where do we turn? To a world of unlimited imagination, where our minds are set free and if you can dream of the impossible you can make it possible. We turn to the OASIS, a virtual reality 80s geek-fest where the burdens of life can’t possibly catch up to you. It’s a future that’s totally achievable, but Ready Player One’s warnings are hard to ignore.
Based on the book by Ernest Cline, who co-wrote the screenplay with frequent Marvel screenwriter Zak Penn, we follow the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young teenager whose only real friends are the ones he’s made in the OASIS. Shortly before his death, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the founder of the OASIS, planted three Easter Eggs inside the game, guarded by impossible tasks that will require the players to think outside the box and rummage around through Halliday’s past in order to find it. The winner takes home not only a substantial amount of money, able to restart their life in the real world, but also complete ownership of the company he left behind.
It’s been years, and yet there’s still no clear winner. None of the three Easter Eggs have been found. Ben Mendelsohn’s evil Sorrento has been on the case since the game’s creation, hoping for his rival company to take control of the OASIS and no longer be the number 2 competitor. But he’s not the only one after these eggs. Wade teams up with a number of avatars, played by the likes of Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Phillip Zhao and Win Morisaki, to find all three eggs first. But the quest they begin takes them on a fight for survival, and when the stakes go beyond that of their video game avatars, they’re going to need to stand up for what’s right.
Spielberg has never been one to half-ass it when it comes to his filmography, and Ready Player One is no exception. It’s a visual wonderland with a number of unbelievable sequences that are pure Spielberg through and through. The film is interesting to watch unfold, and not just because of the central mystery at the core of the plot. It simultaneously provides the fans with exactly the geeky pop-culture references and a 80s-central plot they want to see, while also using it as a warning of the dangers of what we’re becoming. The screenplay gets zero points for subtlety, but hey, it’s certainly a fun ride.
There’s a lot to play around with and explore when it comes to the VR elements of the plot. When inside the OASIS, anything goes. The visual effects are absolutely spectacular, yet Spielberg never loses himself to the magic of it all. He allows these effects to be put to good use, crafting a number of sequences that are beyond description. An early car chase is exceptionally fun, while a sequence I’ll dare not spoil absolutely floored me with its brilliance. You not only care about these characters and understand their motives, but they take you on a thrilling, crowd-pleasing journey that’s really going to resonate with audiences.
For the first twenty or so minutes, I wasn’t sure how exactly to feel. It’s all exposition all the time, with a lot of the human elements really over-acting. Plus, Spielberg continues to implement that over-exposed look he insists on using in every one of his films, and it only continues to annoy me. But the basis of Janusz Kaminsk’s cinematography is brilliant, and the score by Alan Silvestri blends perfectly with the hip 80s soundtrack that’s sure to be downloaded millions of times once it’s released. Still, while its technical merit should be applauded, Ready Player One is far from a perfect movie.
You’ll no doubt be hearing about the number of pop culture references present throughout the film, and that’s because this film is 98% references. Seriously. It’s fun to keep both eyes open throughout all of the OASIS sequences, which are no-doubt the best moments of the film, but the abundance of references does take a toll on the film’s stakes. The third act finale feels lifeless. It’s literally twenty minutes of every popular character over the years just being swarmed on screen at once, and sure, some of it’s cool (a moment with Chucky is fucking amazing), but you don’t feel the stakes at any point in time.
This is the type of film that, for a lot of it, isn’t fantastic. Then all of a sudden a really brilliant sequence will come along that’ll make you forget about all the other shortcomings the narrative presented. Had the film been more along the lines of those memorable moments, this could’ve been a masterpiece. Instead, it’s kinda thin, kinda forgettable, mostly fun and scattered with plenty of classic Spielberg moments. We could’ve used a little more of the brilliant supporting cast of heroes and a little less of T.J. Miller trying way too hard to be funny. But hey, Mark Rylance’s fake hair didn’t annoy me the entire time, which was a nice surprise.
3 1/2 Stars
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