Loading: Nostalgia Mode
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline. Directed by: Steven Spielberg.
Starring: Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts/Perzival, Olivia Cooke as Artemis, Ben Mendelsohn as Sorrento, T. J. Miller as i-R0k, Simon Pegg as Ogden Morrow and Mark Rylance as James Halliday.
When James Halliday, creator of the massive online virtual reality system called “The Oasis” dies, he leaves behind a challenge to win his entire fortune. Teenager Wade Watts finds the first key in the game and faces a race against time to find the others. Hot on his heels are the IOI, who will stop at nothing to win and destroy everything good about The Oasis in the process.
Full disclosure, I’m a fan of the book and it’s quite possible that it’s swayed my opinion somewhat on the movie. In fact, I’m sure it has. I’ll actually do a separate post I think about the differences and the ones I think worked and didn’t. If I did it here, there would be no way to avoid spoilers. So, the movie then. How is it? It’s fine. I was worried going in. I just had a feeling that it would be one of those movies that winds up being disappointing. I know the trailers weren’t that well received, but I loved them. Hell, I even liked those posters they used for the advertising campaign that got a lot of people’s backs up. And yet, when it comes to the movie itself, I came out of it feeling a little underwhelmed. I enjoyed it and I’m definitely glad I saw it, but on the whole I found it to be oddly a little empty.
Let’s start with what worked then. This is a gorgeous looking film and there were many moments that blew me away in terms of pure spectacle. This is an easy day one purchase on UHD just so I can pause it at various moments to see all the Easter eggs that were impossible to catch the first time around. It’s got a great score too. It very much plays on nostalgia as much as the visuals do and almost every song choice works perfectly.
Then there’s the cast. The main roles here are cast well enough. Tye Sheridan is a likeable lead who’s quest is one that’s easy to get behind. I always love Mark Rylance and Ready Player One does nothing to change that. His Halliday is a nervous man with a clear lack of social skills and he’s played here in a way that makes him seem extremely endearing. Simon Pegg is fun too in a much more understated role than I’m used to seeing him. Perhaps the standout for me though is Olivia Cooke. She really impressed me in The Limehouse Golem (do check that film out) and she does again here. It’s nice to see that her star is rising. It’s only really Ben Mendelsohn that doesn’t come out of this brilliantly, but that’s not really his fault. Sorrento is a bit of a nothing villain on the whole and as such, he isn’t really given anything decent to work with. I understand his goals and desires, but there’s nothing about him that elevates him beyond being just a generic villain.
As for the plot itself, it’s a bit of a cookie-cutter version of the source material in a lot of ways. Take the first key for example (mild spoilers for this bit). In the book, it’s a brilliant moment when Wade works out where it is and the challenge to obtain is fun and wonderfully nerdy. Here, it’s just a race. I mean sure, it’s a race that includes a T-Rex and Kong, but by going for spectacle it loses a lot of the charm. Its like that throughout really. The actual game itself doesn’t seem all that hard and as a result it’s not all that impactful when players progress to the next stage. Finding Halliday’s easter egg is supposed to be the biggest game the world has ever seen and yet, aside from a climactic final act, it doesn’t feel like it.
A lot of that is down to world building. There’s not much in the way of showing us how the world is reacting to someone finally getting onto the leaderboard, or how the general population is following what Parzival and co are doing. Ready Player One needed that to really enforce what a huge deal it is and how much is at stake. At times, it comes across as if Spielberg is more interested in showing us what is cool in The Oasis rather than how important it is to the people that are so absorbed by it.
That being said, there are moments when the film just comes to life. The second key for example features a trip into something that I didn’t see coming and it’s one of the best parts of the movie. There’s actually a few moments that made me laugh that I won’t mention for fear of spoilers. One in particular comes right around the time the film drops its only F bomb. On the whole, Ready Player One isn’t a classic, but it is a fun adventure movie that is certainly worth checking out.
I’d be curious to know how much I would have enjoyed this if I weren’t such a fan of the book. Certain key changes here made things feel a little hollow and some of the heart the book had has been lost a little. That being said, there’s a lot to like here. Ready Player One is a visually engaging movie that begs for a UHD rewatch with the pause button at hand. It’s well acted and has some fantastic moments, both adapted and original. Fans of pop culture from the 80’s to now will find a lot to enjoy, and those that aren’t fans should still get something out of what is an enjoyable action popcorn flick.