Ready Player One Review
In recent years Steven Spielberg has shifted his attention to historical dramas like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, or last year’s The Post; films that continued to mark a shift in the director’s more mature interests compared to his 80’s adventure romps. But now the creator of the modern blockbuster has returned to his popcorn movie roots with Ready Player One, perhaps the ultimate celebration of nostalgia and geek culture.
Based on the best-selling book by Ernest Kline, Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian future where people spend the majority of their days in the OASIS, a virtual universe where people can go anywhere and become anything their imagination can conjure up. The focus of most of its users turns to pop culture of the late twentieth century as that time represents deceased OASIS creator James Halliday’s formative years. The plot revolves around a giant scavenger hunt designed by Halliday. The player who can find three hidden keys will unlock a secret easter egg and gain control of the OASIS. However, the charms of Ready Player One will not be found in its plot or even its characters. It is first and foremost about an experience.
Ready Player One plays, for better or worse, like an amusement park ride that does not let up. Spielberg is clearly having a lot of fun staging all of the action sequences and he’s great at building momentum in this virtual playground. An early racing scene is particularly kinetic and a blast to watch unfold. However, it’s somewhat ironic that a 140-minute movie seems to be in too much of a race itself, speeding through the plot. Our leads move from one task to the next leaving little room for character development or attachment. While stars Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke don’t make much of an impression, the fault isn’t in their hands. Mark Rylance, on the other hand, shines as the eccentric, Willy Wonka-ish Halliday, but his screen time is relatively limited.
Much has been made of all the pop-culture references the movie constantly employs. I’ll admit that while I had some fun with them and at times thought they were used cleverly (there’s a great sequence based around a certain Kubrick film), I can also see how people’s mileage may vary on that element. It’s worth noting that as much as the movie celebrates geekdom it also exhibits a warning against such obsessions by the end. Although that message may be admirable, it’s thrown in so late in the game that it makes little effect.
While it might be tempting to compare Ready Player One to one of Spielberg’s other sci-fi efforts, I was reminded most of his 1941, a typically derided movie that I actually have a soft spot for. Both are flawed films, overstuffed with characters and non-stop action that is Rube Goldberg-esque in its execution. They may be relatively light efforts by Spielberg, but I find the charms of each outweigh the problems. Ready Player One has plenty of people nitpicking (and I’ve done my share in this review), but ultimately Spielberg still has the talent and enthusiasm to pull off a thrill ride adventure like few can.