Ready Player One is Spielberg at his most mediocre

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By Brian Harris, Staff Writer

Ready Player One is a good time, and not much else. 

Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One follows the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), your average pop culture obsessed nerd in the dystopian future of 2045. In this future world, people across the globe have become obsessed with a virtual reality video game called “The Oasis”, which basically is an alternative to living life in the real world. When the creator of the game, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, he leaves a contest inside of his most famous creation, prompting players from across the Oasis to collect three “Easter eggs”. The prize for the winner? Complete control of The Oasis, the most valuable business proposition in the world. Soon Wade must make unlikely allies and battle against an evil corporation in his quest for control of the Oasis. 

The first thing you need to know about Ready Player One is that it loves pop culture, to an almost obsessive degree. Every single scene is packed to the brim with references, cameos and plot points lifted from countless films of decades past. Inside the Oasis (which is where much of the film takes place), players can take on the appearance of anyone, or anything. And, I will admit, there is fun to be had in coming through the film’s countless action sequences looking for references like a Where’s Waldo game. The ninja turtles might be battling some robots one minute, the joker and Harley Quinn might be doing the tango the next. The amount of references they’ve crammed in here is impressive, but what’s more impressive is that it doesn’t overtake the film.  

Above all else, this is a Spielberg movie. And while its clearly in the lower end of his filmography in terms of quality, that still means its leaps ahead of other, similarly small-minded blockbusters. The last thing you could say about this film is that its ambitious in anything other than its explosive action. Characters are fine here, as are the rudimentary plot progression that holds them together, its just nothing that you haven’t seen before. Tye Sheridan is fine as the wide-eyed lead, stumbling his way through fire fights and CGI as best he can. His crew, a plucky female player named “Art3mis” (Olivia Cook), and best friend “Aech” (Lena Waithe) make up a perfectly fine supporting cast. No one is a weak link here, it’s just that everyone is good, with one important exception in Mark Rylance’s Halliday. He acts circles around the youngsters as the deceased programmer, in some surprisingly emotional flashbacks. He adds weight to a film that otherwise would be light as a feather. 

But, despite its shortcomings, I absolutely recommend you go see it for the action set pieces alone. This is a film whose priorities seem simply to entertain. And to be honest, it does. In spades. A race through the Oasis early in the film sets the stage for the gorgeous visual feast Spielberg has created here, zipping around iconic film characters, vehicles and locations with absolute joy. This is a film that likes to overwhelm you with its visuals, more often than not the camera is a part of the action, dipping and diving through battles loaded with lovingly crafted references. There’s an infectious passion for the denizens of pop culture here, and Spielberg crafts that into some truly exhilarating sequences, without letting the references take the front seat most of the time. But when they do, it leads to some of the film’s best sequences, like a segment in the mid-section that takes a romp through, without spoiling it, a very iconic film. 

Ready Player One isn’t a great movie, its one with paper thin characters, a predictable story, and serviceable acting (albeit with Mark Rylance as the exception here). However, it doesn’t need all of that, when its as much fun as it is. Brilliantly shot by Spielberg, Ready Player One isn’t a must see, but it’s a good time at the movies. 

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

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