In “Ready Player One” the world has become a pretty crummy place. Energy shortages, economic stagnation, and overpopulation has turned many of the world’s cities into slums. Aside from widespread poverty it has also resulted in cases of social unrest (my personal favorite being ‘The Bandwith Riots’).
One of the stricken cities is Columbus, Ohio. Orphaned 18-year-old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives with his Aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) in a poor neighborhood known as The Stacks. Like everyone else, Wade escapes the harshness of life through the OASIS, a massive virtual reality playground of interconnected worlds. It was the brainchild of sheepishly eccentric James Halliday (the always wonderful Mark Rylance) who posthumously reveals that an Easter Egg is hidden deep within the OASIS. Whoever finds the virtual three keys can unlock the Egg and gain full control of Halliday’s fortune and the OASIS.
These are the worlds director Steven Spielberg plays in – both real and virtual. It was first conceived through the creative mind of Earnest Cline whose award-winning 2011 novel has been a phenomenon in itself. Cline joins writer Zak Penn in adapting his story to the screen and Spielberg takes it and runs. The CGI is as endless as the opening narration but it does allow Spielberg to do some pretty crazy things. Look no further than an homage to “The Shining” which is nothing short of fabulous. But by the third act CGI fatigue had set in.
Wade, an unabashed Halliday enthusiast, begins scouting for clues within the OASIS. His hunt for the first key leads to an elaborate vehicle race through virtual Manhattan. It’s an extraordinary sequence featuring Bigfoot (the monster truck, not Sasquatch), the 1933 King Kong, Jurassic Park’s T-Rex, and a DeLorean time machine for starters. Wade encounters and quickly falls for fellow racer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). The two reluctantly ‘clan up’ to find the keys and keep the Oasis out of the wrong hands.
Ben Mendelsohn provides the story’s antagonist, an evil corporate head who wants the OASIS for himself. Mendelsohn is a good actor who can do these kinds of roles in his sleep. But he feels a little off here. Maybe bland is a better word. I don’t think it’s Mendelsohn’s doing. It’s more of a script issue and indicative of the lack of depth we get in several of the supporting characters.
The story delves into several obvious themes: the haves versus the have-nots, self-identity, etc. But it’s most effective as straight-up pop culture science fiction. It’s essentially a virtual treasure hunt where the characters are searching for three keys while I was hunting for as many culture references as I could find. And there are a ton of them. You could say “Ready Player One” is relentlessly nostalgic and that turns out to be a positive. There are moments when the nostalgia is all that keeps the film afloat.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer volume of pop references scattered throughout the hefty 140 minute running time. The Iron Giant, Hello Kitty, Saturday Night Fever, Freddy Krueger, Mortal Kombat, even Buckaroo Banzai! I’m sure someone out there has compiled a list. For me that was the fun of “Ready Player One” and it’s what made the movie stand out. It’s threaded throughout the story just enough to keep me interested. But if you happen to look past the nostalgia for something more, you may have a hard time finding it.
VERDICT – 3 STARS
Good point on the CGI feeling repetitive and fatigue setting in by the final act. I did find the first two thirds pretty enthralling; the race scene at the beginning is one of the best pure energy fueled scenes of the year in my opinion.
But that final act is super elongated, and felt very “TV Tropey” with the way people get out of things at the last possible moment. Also felt like there was a missed opportunity to play with expectations and make the characters/avatars different than who they actually were (what do you know, the urban-sounding avatar is actually an urban sounding kid).
With that said I’ll probably still buy on Blu-Ray at one point because there is some Spielberg magic to this.
Yep, the CGI just became to much over time and I felt it was working to cover the film’s final act flaws. And to be honest, if it didn’t have such an enormous range of culture references I would probably like it even less. The story really ran out of steam for me.
I was hoping there would be much more to the story besides the virtual reality action. like a good balance between live action and cgi scenarios. but the cgi fatigue set in early as you mentioned. my initial score on your rating was 2.5. but it did have a nice message at the end.
Exactly. That’s the feeling I was left with. For everything it does well I keep feeling like it wasted some potential.
I had thoughts about seeing it though I’ve been unsure about anything from Spielberg ever since the debacle that was that Indiana Jones movie we shall not speak of.
YES! Let that name cross no lips! Talk about an all out travesty. I get stirred up thinking about it.
I still can’t believe I even saw it in the theaters.
Oh I did too. I blindly went in excited thinking there was no way they could screw up on the level they did. I won’t even review the thing.
I did review the film and gave it a positive review only to replay it in my head and realize how wrong I was. I ended up deleting that review. I want to blame Spielberg for it but I think the blame should lie more on George Lucas.
Go ahead and blame them both! I’m fine with that! 😂 It still stings thinking about it. And there were some potentially good components there on paper. What a waste.
Exactly. Spielberg for some stupid decisions (including his infatuation with Shia LaBeouf who is nowhere in Marlon Brando’s league) and awful CGI that hasn’t looked any better since its release and Lucas for his awful screenplay.
I sure do agree with you on this one. The word sure is a crummy place. I went to the Dr. and he sit me down in a chair and poked my eyes with that laser beam and then made me wear them glasses just like that feller in that picture you put on here. I couldn’t watch Judge Judy for two weeks after that!!!
I did like Ready Player One, though I couldn’t at all grasp all the cultural references strewn about the place. In fairness I don’t know if one person could nail them all. If they can, hey — good for them. They have more time on their hands than I.
But this was definitely in the end a lesser Spielberg film. I am with you on the story and the villainous character. Ben Mendelssohn getting slapped at the end was a pretty amusing bit though. That also kind of sums up the whole spirit of the adventure — gently ribbing and playful, broadly entertaining. I never ended up writing a review but maybe I’ll get around to it. (And it just dawned on me I didn’t write anything for Spielberg’s other 2018 release, either. Jeez. I’m slacking!)
I wanted to like it more than I did. But it’s funny, I never felt excitement even from the trailers. That feeling carried over into the movie. Who knows, that could be my fault more than the film’s.
We’re in tune on this one. The race scenes for the first key – insane. The Shining sequence – masterful. The pop-culture reference filling up every frame – beyond fun. The actual movie surrounding these things – meh.
Exactly. And that’s such a letdown. You see the makings of something really good but the core story is pretty by the books. I wanted more.
I really hated the book but I’d still probably watch this if it came on TV. Nice review!
I never read the book but certainly heard a lot about it. But as someone who has read the book and hated it, I would love to hear your reaction to the movie adaptation.
I’m still saving September 13th for Christopher Robin
Gotta love Spielberg! I had a blast with this (despite the noted failings of the story and characters) and I cannot wait to watch it again soon!
I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. You can see Spielberg having a ton of fun, but i can’t quite get past those issues I had.
I’ve always been interested in seeing it, but the rest of my family doesn’t seem to interested. Do they really show a T-Rex and a Delorean?
Yep. Sure do. Along with a ton of other nostalgic throwbacks.