Ready Player One is set in a future where a virtual reality world called the OASIS is the biggest thing on Earth. One of its deceased creator challenges its users to find all his Easter Egg to give the winner his fortune. An unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt against evil corporation IOI. Very sloppily written, the best time Ready Player One shines is when it doesn’t try to encompass everything out of reach, and simply focuses on being a piece of entertainment. It’s breakneck speed ensures there isn’t a dull moment to linger on in its nearly two, and a half hour runtime. Something else that’s somewhat of a positive are the pop culture references, for the most part, are simply there. Not drawing too much attention to them despite the large number of iconic characters to be seen on screen. There also isn’t a reliance on pop culture knowledge to understand the story itself. Granted, even knowing just a little bit helps add to the appeal of Ready Player One. For me, it was the The Holy Hand Grenade reference from (possibly the greatest fantasy film ever made) Monty Python, and the Holy Grail that was a nice surprise.
When it comes everything else this film does plenty of things that works against itself. Mostly how it feels disingenuous in delivery its “experience the real world” message. For starter, the lack of proper world building in the real world. Sure, the OASIS is a fantastical place where a majority of people go to avoid the harsh reality of their life, but those harsh realities are simply ignored in the film. Most you’ll get about the hardship of this future is the main character Wade lost his parents, and his current living conditions. There are also other aspects of the real world that are explained, but just like Wade parents, they come across more as decoration since it rarely shows the real world effects on its people. I sound like I’m being oblivious that this was the intended effect, but when Wade himself doesn’t show any concern for a family member dying within the film why should I care. Wade obviously doesn’t since all he does is simply acknowledge his caregiver has died, and moves on from it. Nothing about that plot point was handle properly making it seems like constant addiction to escapism is great.
Another issue is not enough time is spend in the real world itself for its message to be meaningful. Wade, and the other characters are rarely seen in the real world absorbing its actual beauty like it proclaims it has. You can claim something all you want, but when you don’t actually show it the results is disingenuous. Where’s the connection Wade makes with the real world, and its people. Absent within the film. Bringing up another point that if it wasn’t for Wade constantly ignoring the real world he would have never made the connection with his online friends in the OASIS. Reiterating, “experience the world” in this movie is forced. Why would people prefer to live in the real world if they live in slums over living in the OASIS where they can obtain anything they want. There’s a case to be made for living in the harsh real world, though you won’t find it here.
Speaking of disingenuous, all the pop culture references in the film just feel like they exist. While I’m sure Spielberg, and his crew has some connection to some of the things he references, all of it becomes homogenize. There’s no connection to a majority of it. If you notice something you love on screen chances are high it’ll disappear as just quickly. This issue applies with the pacing disregarding characterization. The most fleshed out characters are the creators of the OASIS; Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg), and James Halliday (Mark Rylance) whom are given more characterization than the main cast themselves. Morrow, and Halliday also have a more fully realize conflict that gets explored as the film progresses unlike the main storyline that refuses to evolve. A big contributing factor to this is Halliday, and Morrow storyline deals with a trouble friendship whereas the other main storyline becomes save the world ordeal from the onset.
When the movie begins, the OASIS users are competing against each other, and evil corporation IOI desires to win the grand prize. By the time the movie gets to it climax, this storyline has hardly evolve into anything beyond its introduction. Contributing more to a lackluster storyline is the writing makes the villains idiotic, and a plot point later on in the movie removes the whole underdog trait of its hero. It’s simple for IOI to find Wade Watts address, but it’s nearly impossible for the same group whom seemingly have dozen of drones ready to blow up anything be able to find Wade later on in the climax. This includes the fact there surveillance cameras seemingly all over the world which is a bigger leap in logic that IOI can’t find them. Like I wrote earlier, when Ready Player One is simply a film focusing on being a piece of entertainment it succeeds, but when it wants to capture the emotional investment it fails. If you removed the whole “experience the real world” message from the writing than issues regarding the lack of world building is gone. Instead, it prefers escapism over reality, and during the portion of the story it actually accepts that part of itself is when it’s a good film.
Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts, and while his performance here didn’t impress me as much as he did in Mud (2012), he’s fine overall. While his enthusiasm for the OASIS is an aspect of his character he sells to the viewer successfully, everything else about his character ain’t as easy to sell. Some of this can be blame on the screenplay, like the scene where Sheridan is supposed to mourn the loss of a family member for less than a minute before it moves onto something else. When this happens, it’s reasonable he wouldn’t be able to emotionally capture what his character is feeling, and portray that in a way where the viewer can become further invested. Other times it’s purely his fault, like typically falling back to wide eyes facial expression to constantly show how he’s in awe of everything he sees. Showing some more enthusiasm would help him, though he also lacks the ability to get across the urgency when the film needs it.
Tye Sheridan co-stars are a bit better in balancing the area Sheridan lacks. Olivia Cooke for example is able to properly get across the urgency of a scene. There’s a moment in the second half of the film where she discovers where she’s being held captive, and her reaction is something appropriately out of a horror movie. She’s more rounded as an actor in this movie because she’s able to do a lot with little. There’s Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, and Hannah John-Kamen whom play the evil adults. As expected, they play the evil adults as you would expect. Mendelsohn especially comes off the most slimy, though the direction is a bit confused if he should be over the top evil, or humanized evil. Making it impossible for Mendelsohn to be memorable as a villain. T.J. Miller, and Hannah John-Kamen are the opposite simply being over the top in their portrayal. Being more than comfortable to make their characters come off as cartoons, and it works surprisingly well in the movie because of the already silly nature of the movie. There’s also the remaining co-stars of Win Morisaki, Lena Waithe, and Philip Zhao that make up the rest of the heroes. These three actors material are the most limited making them go into autopilot acting when the second half hits, but they do their best. Not on one point did I feel these three actors were phoning in their performance in spite of the thankless material.
The two best actors in the movie without question are Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance. Simon Pegg took a while for me to notice as it’s simply something I didn’t expect from him. Relying more on his dramatic side as a actor Pegg eases his way through scene after scene. Being effectively dramatic in everything without ever over acting, or stepping out of bound in his role. However, Mark Rylance is even more impressive in his performance. Without question he is the complete package as an actor in the movie; sincere, funny, believable, and captivating all at once no matter what scene he is. Rylance, and Pegg scenes together are easily the best in the movie, but Mark Rylance presence alone is something that hugely benefited Ready Player One. Without MarK Rylance in the movie, what would be missing is the only actor who is able to capture something heartfelt within a script that feels artificial with it dramatic scenes.
Steven Spielberg visuals aren’t convincing, but within the context of the movie they are more than fine. Since everything takes place in a virtual reality world accepting the plastic looking visuals is easy. What’s not easy is the blurriness that comes whenever the camera moves quickly. Whenever there’s too much going on screen it’s difficult for the camera to stay focus, especially in the climax of the movie where the blurriness makes it difficult to spot the many pop culture figures. However, during the action sequences the freedom of placing the camera wherever Spielberg wants leads to some visually stunning setpieces. In particular, the racing sequence in the beginning in the movie is a sight to behold, especially the amount of effects on screen all at once. My favorite set piece involved obviously involved Mecha-Godzilla (because I grew up with the franchise) fighting against two other iconic robots which I won’t spoil as it best to experience that fight blind. When it comes to music the original pieces of music was during the climax, and a orchestrated piece played that sounded similar to the classic Godzilla theme music. Aside from the obvious insert classic songs from The Bee Gees, Blondie, Prince, and a few other from the era. Music in the movie is nothing that stands out.
Ready Player One is a decent blockbuster made by Spielberg, but misses the magic that made blockbusters like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park special. Missing is the heart, and the connection the filmmakers had with these creations, and recreating the joy it brought to them to a whole new audience. Gone is the wonder, missing is the heart, and absent is the emotion the story attempts to capture, but gave up on at some point. Whenever Ready Player One isn’t pretending it’s something it is not the film is enjoyable experience, and thankfully it’s like that for a majority of the run time. Disappointing yes, but also very entertaining.
SPOILERS BELOW ON SOMETHING THAT BUGGED ME
I didn’t know where to put in this my actual review since it’s not detrimental enough to cripple the movie quality, but it did bug the Hell out of me. When the climax draws to a close, and Wade Watts bids farewell to James Halliday. Wade asks Halliday what he is, and Halliday simply leaves without answering. If Wade encounter with Halliday was simply explained away with it being programmed for whoever won the challenge than I would have been okay, but Halliday says it not. So, either James Halliday became a sentient being that somehow managed to live in a video game, or Halliday actually alive somewhere in the world, and is a big dick for making his best friend, and everyone he cares about that he’s dead. Either way, that minor detail bugs me to end.
Nitpicking A Joke (Contains Spoilers)
When the heroes are off visiting the world of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, there’s a moment where Aech, whom is presume to be male at this moment, making out with a corpse he temporarily sees as a beautiful woman. Once it reveals that Aech is a woman, the scene immediately didn’t make sense. I mean, there wasn’t anything in the movie to indicate she’s bi-sexual, or a lesbian. It was something that left me scratching my head. Sure I laughed when I saw it, but when thinking on back on it. This moment just feels like it got overlooked during the writing process.