♪ Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of nostalgia exploitation ♪
Ready Player One is an action/adventure/sci-fi film based off the book of the same name by Ernest Cline and directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, E.T., your childhood). It stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, a young man living in a dystopian future where the world is in shambles and everyone lives in ‘The Oasis’ a virtual reality video game created by the enigmatic Halliday (Mark Rylance). But when Halliday passes away and leaves an easter egg hunt for the future of the Oasis, Wade must set out on a quest with companions Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe) to stop the sinister corporation IOI and its head Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) from taking over the digital world.
Ready Player One has had a very interesting build-up to its release – from twitter obliviously mocking its nostalgic elements to a frankly mediocre marketing campaign, Spielberg’s latest hasn’t had the smoothest run. Which makes it all the more satisfying to say the following: its good! Spielberg classic level? Far from it, but RPO offers a solidly entertaining ride filled with interesting visuals, classic Spielberg shmultz and so many easter eggs that it’d make even the Easter Bunny blush.
Having read the book and enjoyed it immensely, I was a little surprised to see how little it actually has in common with the film. Spielberg has clearly taken the basic premise and characters and meshed it into a much more filmic story, a move that elevates some parts of the source material immensely while weakening others. While a little meandering at times, its at the very least always entertaining, and Spielberg has clearly had a great time building new sequences in the world that are wildly interesting, but some of the core messages and themes of the book have been both diluted and lost in the translation. To go too deeply would spoil the book and film, but weighty reveals in the book are passed off as easy jokes in the movie, and Spielberg’s classic shmultz may be lovely to experience again but also feels like it sanitises elements of the book which frankly feels like a missed opportunity. A decent adaptation to screen, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of what it could have been.
One thing that the film obviously has over the book however is the ability to visualise the incredible world of the Oasis. Its a jaw-dropping CGI creation that stretches the limits of physics and spectacle into a game-like visual style that really works in the film’s benefit. The only major drawback to the visuals is how incredibly messy and disorienting it is on screen at times, but thankfully that’s only a handful of sequences and typically the spectacle outweighs the clutter. This obviously lends to some incredible action set-pieces that deal with not only brilliantly implemented game elements but also scale in fantastic ways. It may be messy, but no-one’s going to accuse Ready Player One’s visual style as unmemorable.
The cast, while good, does get a little bit lost in the shuffle at times. There’s not an incredible amount of time spent on character development meaning the performances alone need to do most of the heavy lifting and most do succeed if only barely. Tye Sherdian is a perfectly acceptable lead, but never escapes the thought that every other early 20s guy in Hollywood could have played it just as well (if not better). Olivia Cooke as Art3mis is at least given a smidge more to her character but even then its not anything particularly unexpected or interesting (even if she gives a good performance too). The only real standouts in the cast is Mark Rylance as Halliday and Ben Mendelsohn as Sorrento. Rylance embodies the asocial figure Halliday is in the book and while he looks a little absurd at times, he never strays into parody which is an admirable feat. Mendelsohn succeeds almost purely on his charisma and ability to play the most wonderfully despicable villains in cinema at the moment. From Rogue One to The Dark Knight Rises with even a little bit of Animal Kingdom in the middle, the Aussie bloke has proven he has an incredible knack for making the flattest villains memorable and here is no different.
And obviously there is one other sticking point for many people that obviously needs addressing – the easter eggs and references. While it verges very close to it on a few occasions, the references and nostalgia never feel too distracting or inorganic. Its clearly just a part of the world and while people will likely be gawking from one scene to the next to spot everything, they’re not essential to the story at all. It may still be incredibly stupid and distracting to some, but I personally thought Spielberg handled it as best as he possibly could considering the premise.
All of these competing elements lead to a final product that, while flawed, is consistently entertaining and is surely going to be a massive crowd pleaser. It may not have used the source material to the best of its ability and squandered the characters a little bit in favour of spectacle but that doesn’t stop it feeling like a wondrous return to the shmultzy Spielberg of the 80s. And for a film obsessed with nostalgia, what could be more appropriate?
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Meh
Blockbusters: Highly Recommended