Movie Review: ‘Ready Player One’
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tye Sheriden, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
Plot: In an overcrowded and miserable future most people spent their time in the OASIS, a massive virtual reality word where they can work, play, interact and be whatever they want. When the OASIS creator dies he leaves his fortune and control of the system in the hands of whoever solves his riddles and passes his tests.
Review: Right – there’s some issues with the book. It has a fun concept and features some good world building but gets held back by some serious problems. These include ridiculous pandering to geeks by rattling off long lists of popular sci-fi shows, some seriously poor female characters and the whole novel reading as a nerd’s fantasy of becoming a rich celebrity and scoring with hot girls because of his expertise at Atari.
In spite of all these issues the book struck a chord with the intended audience and became a minor sensation. A movie adaptation didn’t seem like a great idea because it leans so heavily on its pop culture references and gathering together all the copyrighted bits and pieces wouldn’t be possible. Enter Spielberg, a man who could pull together not all but enough content to populate the OASIS. We get DC characters, Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter II, Battletoads, Overwatch, Halo, Chucky, Freddy, Jason, Gundam, the Iron Giant, Akira and plenty more. It succeeds in this regard. So that’s nice.
As to how it all fits into the story and they manage the lack of character to work with is a more complex issue. Zak Penn worked with Ernest Cline to adapt the latter’s book into a screenplay and they’ve ironed out some of the problems. Parzival (Sheridan) is our Gary Sue and is the standard issue hero with a crappy home life and becomes a forerunner in the contest to find the Halliday’s Easter Egg after deducing a previously unnoticed clue. He works with his friends Aech (Waithe), Art3mis (Cooke), Daito and Sho to fight against Evil Corporation IOI in both the OASIS and the real world.
Some of the plot reveals are brought forward in story, such as meeting Art3mis in real life and learning that cool white guy Aech is actually *gasp* and female African American lesbian. The effect of these changes is that Art3mis has much more personality and agency in the story instead of being just another trophy for Perzival to win at the end. We also avoid the cringe of Aech’s real identity being treated as a shocking and clever plot twist on the level of Keyser Söze instead of being more like the trees being murderers in The Happening.
It’s just an incidental aspect of the character here, a quick note about online identities being misleading. Aech operates a garage and provides some bloody funny moments during the second challenge, substantially more than the ‘cool tough guy’ of the novel (who was someone perplexingly based on monumental creep Harry Knowles).
This is turning into a comparison to the book and not a film review. Let’s steer it back on track. The film looks good and is packed with detail. Spielberg does a great job and taking the book’s massive exposition dumps and explaining as much as possible visually. The museum of Halliday’s (Rylance) life is a good way of delving into the lore, and gives Halliday himself a good character arc that becomes the heart of the tale. The visual effects are immensely good and sell the idea of a virtual world well and in a highly imaginative way. The sense of fun the book generates carries across well.
One highlight is the second challenge, which functions as a tribute to one of the works of particularly noteworthy director and features some especially memorable visuals. This imaginative concept is more interesting to watch than the crowded final battle. There’s a strong cast of talented young actors taking the lead, and they offset Ben Mendelsohn’s hammy villain very well. If there’s one weak link it’s T.J. Miller’s bumbling henchmen whose distinctive voice and comedy style is hard to seperate from the pointless character.
So, the biggest complaint levelled at Ready Player One is that it panders to geek culture. If you’re a geek and you want to be pandered towards then it’s a fun ride. Good visuals, a nifty idea well delivered…it won’t be memorable in the long term but it’s good popcorn. On that basis…
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN