When you pitch a film that’s all about pop culture, if you want to do it well, you’re going to need the rights to a lot of IP. And who better to get those rights from than the man who owns a good chunk of them? Steven Spielberg. It feels safe to say that Ready Player One, the prolific director’s latest film, is a match made in heaven.
The film, based upon the book by Ernest Cline (who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film), follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young guy who escapes his mundane life in a dystopian future the same way everyone else does: by spending most of his time in the OASIS, a virtual reality console. Five years before the story picks up, the creator of the OASIS played by Mark Rylance dies. He leaves behind three Easter Eggs, which, if found, will grant the winner complete control of the OASIS (as well as the substantial sum of cash that comes with it). Wade and a group of his friends, including famous Easter Egg Hunter, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), race to find the three clues before nefarious businessman, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
It’s certainly a film that’ll be fun to slowly work your way through at home, pausing every other frame and trying to find any and all references you can in a geeky game of ‘Where’s Wally’
The big draw of Ready Player One is, as already mentioned, the pop culture references and it’s clear from pretty early on that the movie’s going to deliver on this front. It’s certainly a film that’ll be fun to slowly work your way through at home, pausing every other frame, trying to find any and all the references you can in a geeky game of ‘Where’s Wally.’ But, Spielberg doesn’t let these take over the movie, and the pure love for pop culture is handled extremely well.
It’s no real surprise that Spielberg does an excellent job with the movie, but it’s still worth saying. He (along with a talented team of VFX artists) create a dazzling spectacle in the OASIS, not designed to be photo-realistic, but with graphics befitting of a futuristic virtual reality system. It’s simply gorgeous. But Spielberg is careful to ground the fun of the OASIS in the real world, which is an important theme of the film, and by spending as much time as he does there, it makes the impact of the more emotional beats towards the end of the film extremely effective.
He flits between the virtual and the real world with ease, and even when he does so during the frenetic action in the OASIS, you’re never confused about what’s going on. This also allows for some of the film’s funniest moments, including watching a group of players reacting to suddenly being part of a terrifying (and well known) horror movie. The film doesn’t rely on this one gag for all its jokes, and is full of great humour throughout, with T.J. Miller’s villainous bounty-hunter delivering the cracking one-liners you’d expect from a guy who calls his avatar ‘i-R0k’.
When the stakes are raised and their real lives are in danger, you’re rooting for them
One of my worries about the film based on the marketing was that the characters would be a bit bland and serve as background to the action and references, but this was far from the case. Spielberg once again cleverly uses the OASIS to his advantage here, allowing the audience to get to know the characters how they want to be seen before getting to know them in the real world. This means that by the time you do meet the High Five (Wade and his ‘clan’) in the real world, you do really care about the characters.
As they begin to feel more comfortable with themselves, you get to spend more time with them, and when the stakes are raised and their real lives are in danger, you’re rooting for them. The performances are all really strong, with Rylance as Halliday, crafting one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen in a movie in a while. Even though he’s barely in the film, Simon Pegg also creates a layered, interesting and likeable character in a very understated, yet impressive, performance.
Now, I haven’t read the book, so can’t speak to the film as an adaptation, but the story is easy to follow, but not disappointingly simple either. Even when you start to worry that it’s going down a more generic route, it offers pleasant surprises; enough to keep you near the edge of your seat with the plot moving along at a nice pace.
Ultimately, these flaws are pretty inconsequential and certainly won’t detract from your enjoyment of the film
I came extremely close to giving this film 5 stars, but the film isn’t without faults. Sorrento’s motivations aren’t exactly made clear, and the villains are the weakest part of the film (although Mendelsohn delivers a really fun performance). It’s also too long, with the third-act, in particular, having plenty of moments that could be cut. Some of the supporting characters are underdeveloped as well, especially 2 members of Wade’s group, and the love story is difficult to buy, if not for the great chemistry between Sheridan and Cooke (the latter delivering an extremely impressive performance, especially through the motion-capture of the OASIS). Ultimately, these flaws are pretty inconsequential and certainly won’t detract from your enjoyment of the film.
Spielberg really does deliver a fun blockbuster film, making the most of the technology provided to him both as a filmmaker but also within the story, offering a film that leaves you excited to watch it again.