“Ready Player One,” dir. Steven Spielberg
When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
Steven Spielberg is responsible for some of the greatest, most beloved blockbusters in cinematic history, many of which were clear inspirations for author Ernest Cline when he was writing the novel, “Ready Player One.” It’s a fitting touch that the film adaptation of a story that reveres ’80s pop culture would be directed by the most celebrated director of that time. The problem is that the marketing has been relying so heavily on the pop culture references that crowd up the film that it looked like a pandering mess. Fortunately, the movie “Ready Player One” has some of the imaginative flare that you’d expect from a Spielberg blockbuster. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough of it to balance out the moments where it gets messy.
Tye Sheridan does a commendable job as the protagonist, Wade Watts, even if the development of his character is fairly surface level. He’s at his most likable as his OASIS avatar, Parzival, where he has charming chemistry with Art3mis, played by Olivia Cooke, and often entertaining banter with his in-game best friend Aech, played by Lena Waithe. The moments within the OASIS where these central characters interact are where they all shine brightest and thankfully that’s where they spend most of their screentime.
The actor who steals the movie, however, is Mark Rylance in what is probably the most entertaining role he’s been given in a Spielberg film to date as the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. He has an infectious, childlike glee at times while also growing to be a deeper character as more details about him are uncovered, making for some of the more compelling scenes in the movie from a narrative perspective.
Obviously like the novel it’s based on, “Ready Player One” is filled to the brim with pop culture references and one of the biggest fears going in is that it would all become overbearing. After the first major action set piece, that fear started to become more palpable as it’s a nauseating nightmare to watch. It’s near impossible to follow the mayhem other than a few glimpses of instantly recognizable icons in the cluttered visual mess. Thankfully, this clears up more during the second act as the quest goes into full effect and the references become a bit more inspired and story driven. A couple of major sequences about halfway through are major highlights as not only clever but genuinely thrilling.
At a nearly two and a half hour runtime, there are a lot of moving pieces within the story and by far the least interesting aspects involve Ben Mendelsohn’s character, Nolan Sorrento, as he chases down our heroes and attempts to take over the OASIS with his company, IOI. Despite his committed performance, the character is just a typical businessman who wants complete control of a towering corporation. Cline and co-writer Zak Penn didn’t do nearly enough in making IOI a formidable obstacle and providing more intrigue into the motives of the company.
The explosive finale also feels like sensory overload as far too much is thrown at the screen at once. Save for a couple of briefly fun bits here and there, it’s all so chaotic and CGI heavy that it takes away from the investment in the main characters. Also, some of the resolutions felt a bit anticlimactic after such a massive adventure, leaving much to be desired by the time the credits roll.
While definitely not the disaster that it so easily could have been, “Ready Player One” is a mixed bag. The characters feel underwritten, the visual effects jump around from being impressive to merky, the pop culture references can get overbearing, and the story oftentimes gets too bloated for its own good. It’s still better than any of Steven Spielberg’s films since 2012’s “Lincoln,” but that really doesn’t say much. I really miss classic Spielberg.
Have you seen “Ready Player One” yet? Have you read the book? How does it compare? Leave your thoughts down below in the comments section.
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