WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2018)

 

Director: Steven Spielberg

 

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, TJ Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe

The world is screaming that Steven Spielberg is back – but where exactly did he go? Did The Post, The BFG, Bridge of Spies, Lincoln or War Horse just...just never happen?

 

He’s back after an extremely short restroom break with Ready Player One – an adaptation of the pop-culture crammed novel by Ernest Cline. Harking back to Spielberg’s blockbuster heydays of old, the movie is a sprawling, CGI-filled, easter egg stuffed sci-fi fantasy/adventure flick that switches tones as quickly as an avatar can be changed in the movies VR world.

 

It’s also just...OK.

In the year 2045, the world has been bought to its knees by climate change and overpopulation, now slums are everywhere and apathy reigns. To alleviate the misery of reality, people spend their time in the OASIS – a virtual reality world created by visionary James Halliday (Rylance), a world where you can become whoever you want to be in the form of an avatar. After he passed away, Halliday hid three ‘Easter eggs’ within the vast VR world with the end reward for whoever found it being total control over the OASIS and a vast fortune to boot. A hardcore group of hunters – known as ‘Gunters’ – devote their time to locating the eggs, including eighteen-year-old Wade Watts (Sheridan) and Art3mis (Cooke), however, huge video game conglomerate, Innovative Online Industries, headed by megalomaniac Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn) are also after the eggs and the chance to seize control of OASIS. As the hunt intensifies and the chances of being ‘zeroed out’ of the game increases, OASIS becomes more and more perilous leading to the pop culture explosion of an ending.

 

Everywhere you look on screen during Ready Player One, you’ll see pop culture references galore – the movie is bursting at the seams with them. It’s these moments that the movie was heavily marketed around and it’s clear to see why. Behind the flashes of Batman, Freddy Krueger, The Iron Giant and Duke Nukem lies a thin story that isn’t particularly engaging. It’s not that the narrative is horrible, it really isn’t, but it just doesn’t grab you and demand your attention (you’ll be too busy looking for Easter eggs anyway). The characters, though well acted for the most part, are lacking too and the circumstances in which they come together are convenient and just a bit rushed. There are a selection of great scenes and moments, but these aren’t consistent enough for this movie to be classed as great overall. There really aren't any prevalent messages here, which feels like a missed opportunity - there's a welcome admonition at the conclusion but the chance to send some real messages about the digital age and the dependent world we now live in was passed up for the wow factor.

 

Now, Ready Player One is in no way a bad movie, it’s just a decent movie. Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke are solid leading the movie, though their characterisations are thinner than paper and the romance forced whereas Ben Mendelsohn’s devilish villain had a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to him – he literally would have gotten away with it if wasn’t for those meddling kids. In keeping with the pop culture references, Mark Rylance did his best Garth Algar impression and Hannah John-Kamen did her best impression of a comic book villain – i.e. pointless. Lena Waithe is fun as Helen/Aech, adding some levity to the movie in most of her scenes. Simon Pegg looked and sounded odd – why not just cast Michael Sheen instead?

 

At times, the movie looked great and visually spectacular. If you like video games, you’ll be in luck because this movie feels like one for the most part. The Final Fantasy-esque photorealistic CGI looks splendid, but I found it wearisome eventually. The final battle was awesome to begin with, but as it dragged on, it became more and more questionable and the ultimate homage to pop culture, and nothing more – plus Mendelsohn’s character made a few strange decisions which just didn’t fit. Where the narrative began to sag into mediocrity, the awesome trip back to The Overlook Hotel and The Shining was the movies standout set piece – it’s worth watching for this scene alone. A hilarious moment with the Chucky doll also got a lot of laughs and that’s something Ready Player One got right. The humour and levity felt right throughout, and TJ Miller surprisingly contributed to this a lot.

 

Whilst watching the movie, I did begin to wonder how many of the younger viewers would understand the references and whether this would impact on their enjoyment overall. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for answers to this.

 

Also, I have a fondness for posters with the purple tone this one has, so...that's a win. 

 

Ready Player One is a nostalgia hound’s dream, and it was great to see things like the DeLorean, The Overlook and The Iron Giant back on the big screen, and along with the musical cues did deliver some warm feelings and fond memories. If you aren't a fan of video games or nostalgia, then you won't find much to enjoy this (I enjoy both, mind). The pop culture references were fun for the most part, but the lack of tension and thin story, unfortunately, can’t be overlooked. Well-acted characters lacking in development with a mostly uninspiring story ultimately hurt the movie, and what could/should have been a retro blast of awesomeness instead has to settle for simply being OK.

March 29th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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