FILM REVIEW – READY PLAYER ONE. With Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance. Written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language. 140 minutes.
There’s an audience for READY PLAYER ONE, but it’s a highly selective one. If you grew up with the video games and movies of the late ‘70s and ‘80s, this nostalgia trip should push all your buttons. Beyond that, it’s an overlong movie whose ultimate message is: turn off your devices and get out in the real world, at least occasionally.
When we first meet Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), he’s living in “the Stacks,” a near-future dystopia which isn’t quite “The Hunger Games” but is so dreary that he prefers life in the online world of Oasis, an immersive 3D video game where he gets to be his avatar, Parzival, and have a much cooler time. In the real world, he is obsessed with Halliday (Mark Rylance), the man who created Oasis, trying to learn everything he can about him.
When Halliday died, he left word that there was a hidden Easter Egg in the game, and the player who finds it will get his fortune. As Wade searches for the three keys that will lead to the prize, he acquires both friends and enemies. The biggest enemy is Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of IOI, an evil corporation that not only wants control of Oasis but has amassed an army of prisoners who are working off their massive debts.
Screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline have adapted Cline’s novel and reportedly improved on some of the problems in the book. This is essentially the “underdogs vs. the powerful bad guys” plot. Given that this is an old-school Steven Spielberg movie, you pretty much know how it’s going to turn out from the beginning. The characters are wafer-thin, with Mark Rylance (who won an Oscar for his turn in Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”) coming closest to creating a full-bodied character.
The attraction here is neither the plot nor the acting, but the special effects – the usual top-notch work from Industrial Light and Magic – and the numerous pop culture references. The extended sequence where the characters find themselves in the world of Stanley Kubrick’s film of “The Shining,” is the stand-out. There’s also nods to a shelfful of video games, King Kong, MechaGodzilla, the Iron Giant, and Monty Python. For viewers of the right age, it will seem like a trip to a nostalgia-laden fun house.
“Ready Player One” is not a bad film, in that its target audience should find it satisfying and entertaining. However, it’s not a particularly good one either. At the end, the viewer is told “reality is real” and yet is left wanting to go play in the simulated world of Oasis. It’s a fitting summation of Spielberg’s career: occasional nods to the real world, but really preferring a world of fantasy and eternal adolescence.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Back To The Future is one of the many movies paid homage to in Ready Player One. Check out super-talented BTTF super-fan Adam Kontras‘s new documentary, The Fastest Delorean In The World, now available for streaming and download.