Ready Player One, 2018
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Mckenna Grace, Letitia Wright.
The year is 2045, and the future is a baron wasteland of class disparity, yet for the likes of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) there is the escape of the OASIS. A virtual reality world where the user can be everything they’re not in the real world, and go anywhere their imagination will take them. Hidden within this digital landscape is an Easter Egg, planted by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), that will grant whoever finds it the keys to the kingdom. When Wade solves the first riddle, it triggers a universe-expanding contest, pitting him against millions of other users, as well as corporate bad guy, Nolan Serrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
Ready Player One has been booted up on the big screen with plenty of DLC baggage in the form of the kind of literary vitriol that’s normally reserved for 50 Shades or Dan Brown. There has also been plenty of sniffy criticism about the misappropriation of some of the cherished properties on display. Not wanting to get bogged down in social media run-off, just take a minute to remind yourself that you can’t please everyone and move on to the next level. If you can do that, even if you’re not schooled in the nostalgic language of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book, Ready Player One is a relentlessly entertaining blockbuster.
Admittedly, a great deal depends on your willingness to digest an information overload from the off. Spielberg throws it all at the screen in a wondrous pre-title sequence, that some properties might afford an entire origin movie to establish. The camera weaves from arcade vistas, to Batman scaling a mountaintop, as a Tye Sheridan voiceover acts as instruction manual for the viewer.
Ready Player One’s aesthetic felt quite alienating during the marketing, but once you’re immersed in the OASIS, your eyes will be as wide as those of Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). The early moments are spent playing nostalgia bingo, whether it’s something as subtle as a Vote Goldie Wilson poster from Back to the Future, or a giant T-Rex stomping after a Delorian driving Wade. However, as the movie evolves, the less of a distraction it becomes. Ready Player One washes over you, Spielberg taking the code of Cline’s novel and making it something entirely his own.
He does this by ensuring that character is as much of a driving force as spotting Freddy Krueger or Chun-Li. Sheridan makes a likeable lead, even if he does get a bit lost beneath his avatar, something that the brilliant Olivia Cooke comfortably avoids. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ready Player One’s MVP’s are Rylance and Mendelsohn. The former adds such an emotional weight to a film that might appear superficial from the outside, but he, along with Spielberg, ensure that there is a big beating heart amongst this toy box.
The film does a great job of balancing the real world and the OASIS, with the jungle of the stacks, a series of highrise structures made up of campervans and corrugated iron, rendered just as you’d imagined when reading the book. That said, Ready Player One’s standout moments can be found in the virtual world; a Saturday Night Fever dance sequence is dizzying fun, the pay-off afforded to Chucky hilarious, and the creative choice made in replacing the book’s Ferris Bueller quest with a completely different movie, one which we won’t spoil here, is an inspired one.
Fans of the book’s key quests might be slightly disappointed by the changes made to their structure, but Zak Penn (Last Action Hero, which is referenced early on with an enjoyable sight gag) and Ernest Cline’s screenplay has a lot to try and cram in, so a bit of streamlining is forgivable.
Ready Player One is Spielberg letting us know that he can still achieve top score when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking, surprising audiences with a movie that’s an adrenalin shot of pure fun to the heart, as well as the eyeballs.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★