Movie Review: Ready Player One
Ready Player One isn’t a popcorn flick; it’s more like cotton candy. While it attempts to be sweet (in every sense of the word), Ready Player One is empty calories, lacking in substance and depth.
Ready Player One is based on a best selling novel, one that was nearly encyclopedic in it’s cataloging of 80’s geek culture. While popular, the book had it’s flaws. Filled with Gamergate-style gatekeeping and a toxic view of relationships-as-possessions, many of the sensibilities that were cute in 2011 have rapidly degraded. It was also, quite frankly, tedious and bloated. As such, there was much trepidation about how the movie version would handle the adaptation.
Steven Spielberg nips all the potential controversy in the bud. Ready Player One is a safe, clean, mass-market appeal film. You know: boring, but with a lots of lights and colors. All the design choices in this film are so safe that I don’t know why this needed to exist; it’s not a love letter to fans of the book, and it doesn’t have anything of its own to say either.
Ready Player One (2018)
In 2045, society is burnt out. Economic upheaval has led to a have all/have nothing system, and America has pretty much given up on giving a damn. Escapism is the order of the day, and everyone escapes to the same place: The OASIS. A massive virtual reality system, The OASIS allows people to live a fantasy life in complete anonymity. From gaming to socializing, OASIS is all things to all people.
When James Halliday, the eccentric creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a challenge: find three hidden keys, unlock an Easter egg, and become the sole owner of the OASIS and all its vast wealth. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a gunter (egg+hunter, get it?), and has dedicated his life to finding the keys. Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of Halliday and all his geeky obsessions, Wade quests to find a way out of his boring, impoverished reality.
Ready Player One has made some changes from the book to make it more welcoming. It has softened Wade from his “my Geek-Boner is bigger than yours” book counterpart, and improved the relationship between Wade and rival gunter Art3mis (Olivia Cook). The movie also opens up the geek world to all; current fads like Twitch-streaming and Minecraft co-exist with Monty Python and Atari. Despite the dystopian setting, Ready Player One maintains a light tone, mixing a Charlie and Chocolate Factory sense of wonder with a treasure hunt reminiscent of (but nowhere near as good as) The Goonies.
Every once in awhile, the film tries to wink at the Adult component of its Young Adult audience. There is some cursing, an instance when the full-immersion VR technology leads to innuendo, and a few deaths in the real world. Even then, nothing feels like it has weight or consequence. After Wade’s adoptive parent gets blown up AND Wade gets kidnapped, he immediately moves right to getting all gooey over meeting his crush in real life. Kid doesn’t even mourn.
These decisions lead to a story that just doesn’t connect. It’s trying for sweet and breezy, but nails shallow and frivolous instead. And did I say that Ready Player One welcomes all? Well, not really. There may be girls in the OASIS, but they all play Doom. Don’t expect to find My Little Pony or Barbie here: the OASIS welcomes women… if they like boy-stuff.
Shallow plot aside, the real draw of Ready Player One is the visual spectacle. Just like the book, the central premise is that everything you ever fondly recalled lives inside the OASIS*, ready to play with you. The movie gets right to that conceit: one of the selling-points Wade makes when describing this world is “You can climb Everest… WITH BATMAN!”. Ready Player One is all about cramming as many pop-culture references into one place at any given time as possible.
The result is… sickening. Not as in morally repugnant, but as in nausea-inducing. I watched this movie on a smaller screen, and thank God I did. There’s so much going on during the action sequences that I had waves of anxiety threatening to crash over me at several points. If you have any issue with flashing lights and sounds, stay the hell away from this film, especially in IMAX or 3D.
The other drawback to this free-for-all is that nothing stands out. Catching that one pop-culture reference that matters to you will be like trying to find Waldo at a rave. Other than an extended scene inside Stephen King’s The Shining, everything else breezes by like a hurricane. The book was ponderous in listing everything it thought was Geek-Gold; the movie solves that issue by visually whipping everything past you.
*God I’m sick of capitalizing that; at least it doesn’t have acronym punctuation as well.
Ready Player One is this year’s Transformers. It’s loud and gaudy and empty. While Transformers only mined one pop-culture reference for gold, Ready Player One tries to mine it all. If you like massive amounts of CGI washing over you for 2 hours, this movie is definitely going to scratch that itch. If you wanted a movie that says anything about anything: Sorry, But Your Princess Is In Another Castle.