Ready Player One Review

Ready Player One Review
(2.5 STARS)

Steven Spielberg became one of the most beloved filmmakers in the history of the medium on the backs of blockbusters like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Jurassic Park that transported viewers into fantastical worlds where anything seemed possible.

Ready Player One is perhaps his purest distillation of that very idea, yet it’s flatter than anything the director has done since Indy 4. The problem is a familiar and uninspired story. The source material is a popular novel by Ernest Cline, but anyone familiar with even one of the endless train of classic films referenced in Ready Player One—OK, maybe not The Shining—knows how this ends. Money corrupts. David beats Goliath. The details are inconsequential.

That’s not to say the film is a total waste of time. The Shining sequence is rather enjoyable, and seeing virtual reality friends surprised by the appearance of their real-life counterparts was pretty hilarious (and maybe one of the film’s more realistic elements). But that sadly doesn’t make up for everything else, which is tired or borrowed entirely from another, more successful property.

Our hero is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). In Columbus circa 2045, he lives in a sort of trailer park that runs 15 to 20 stories high, and he spends most of his time living it up in a virtual reality world called the OASIS. And he’s not alone. It’s where people meet, see the world, live out their dreams, and escape their nightmarish realities.

But with the death of the OASIS’ founder, a mysterious man named Halliday (Mark Rylance), control of the virtual world is basically up for grabs. He’s left a key somewhere in the OASIS, along with a series of clues and every single memory he’s ever generated. Anyone with enough time and desire can seek it out and win something worth untold trillions of dollars. Wade, whose virtual persona is called Parzival, is one of several individuals seeking to solve this riddle to keep the OASIS free. But he and his friends, including Artemis (Olivia Cooke) and H (Lena Waithe), are nothing against the power of Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO of the evil IOI corporation, who wants to profit off this digital paradise.

The film takes place about 50-50 between the real world and the OASIS. Spielberg, maybe the best world-building director ever, crafts something appropriately soul-sucking with the former. In terms of art direction, it’s a feat. The OASIS is more of a mixed bag. The different environments in which our characters run around are extremely cool, as are the designs on the characters themselves.

The action, however, is disappointingly generic. If you’ve seen a Marvel movie—with group A and group B shouting and running toward each other—you know what you’re getting from Ready Player One‘s multiple climactic fights. It doesn’t matter that Yoda is teaming up with Batman, Freddy Krueger, and the Iron Giant and whoever else. That’s all sort of nonsense. Its the staging, the stakes, the camerawork, and the effects that make or break scenes like these, and for all the times Spielberg has gotten it right over the years, the action here doesn’t come together.

It’s not hard to see why Ready Player One would appeal to a lot of people, but its reputation, coupled with Spielberg’s interest, suggests something more thematically unique, powerful, or both. I couldn’t get terribly excited when David beat Goliath or when money lost to good intentions because I’ve seen both so many times before and nothing about the two hours I spent with Wade and company made me especially care about their predicament.

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