Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T. J Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen
Plot: It’s 2045 and the world escapes the horrors of reality in the OASIS, a virtual world where you can live out your fantasies as an avatar.
This summer, we’ve had some fantastic blockbusters to sink our teeth into. Mission Impossible sixth entry is getting incredible reviews. Infinity War from Marvel Studios is looking like it could be the world’s favourite movie of 2018. And in between those, we’ve had a Star Wars, Jurassic Park and an Oceans movie. But what 2018 has been sorely lacking, arguably something that has been absent from cinema is quite a long time, is an original movie. And it looks like we’ve had to return to the head of some of cinema’s greatest original ideas to find the next innovative idea.
The idea of a virtual reality being an escape for the majority of humans has been done before. With humanity huddled into dark, dingy homes, missing out on the real world, the under-achieving Surrogate often springs to mind, although Ready Player One feels less compelled to drag morals into its blockbuster. Perhaps the better movie to compare Ready Player One to is Avatar, Spielberg taking Cameron’s idea and taking it to the next level (serves the Avatar team right for dragging their heels with the franchise). But while the initial set-up stems from the same place, Spielberg quickly works to move into his own territory. After all, this is where Spielberg thrives best. We are thrown into a gloomy future, where the world is an impoverished mess for reasons Spielberg deems unimportant to explain. All we need to know is that everyone is suffering and in need of escapism in their lives. Enter Mark Rylance’s brilliant James Halliday, a video game designer who builds a virtual world, named OASIS, for everyone to hide away in. Spielberg quickly cuts through the chunky exposition required to add depth to his story, the highlights being: Halliday had his own demons, but lived for the customers of his world. When he dies, he hid three keys in the OASIS. Whoever finds all three would be the heir to this world. Cut to Tye Sheridan’s plucky Wade West, who comes from a poor background, but in the OASIS, he is the cool Parzival, determined to find all three keys. The issue is that the competition comes in the form of a money-hungry company, ran by Mendelsohn’s greedy corporate man. He wants to own the OASIS and make it an ad-filled cash machine. With the story set up, Spielberg simply lets loose in this entertaining sandbox world. Ready Player One might not originally come across as a brand-new idea, before it is proud of the films that have inspired it. It steals from the Stranger Things’ habit of wearing its roots on its sleeve, packing Easter eggs after in-jokes, cramming its movie to the rafters. On a first watch, this can be exhausting as you are constantly flitting between following the story as a movie of its own merits, or desperately trying to pick out as many movie gags as possible (was that Robo-cop amongst those extras?). However, at the same time, it does give the impression that Ready Player One is a celebration of cinema in itself, arguably giving it the feel-good factor of the year.
It is a flawed movie, for sure. God, there are hundreds of problems littered around this movie. For one, depending on your mood, the exposition is either ham-fisted or bang on the nose. The advertising companies being the enemy or the in-game purchases providing the gamers with special abilities could either be lazy writing or a clever referencing of the internet phenomenon. It is also quite telling watching Ready Player One back to back with an action movie like Mission Impossible: Fallout where Tom Cruise is performing the action in real-time, instead of a computer-generated fight scene like this movie. And Ready Player One is tremendously animated, the OASIS scenes entirely CGI. One scene sees the Iron Giant punch a MechaGodzilla in a thrilling fight to the death. Realms of avatars are wiped out by a grenade. In a race, Olivia Cooke’s character slides under a truck in the nick of time while on a motorbike at high speeds. But you don’t feel a thing, the animation rendering it somewhat mute. The stakes just aren’t there as it would be with the real thing. Also, perhaps this is a film a tad too long, guilty of starting up again whenever you think it has just ended. But originality does get you far and Ready Player One is often that little bit too fun to dislike that much. The cast are bright, likeable stars, quipping the dialogue with a charismatic flair. The riddles at the heart of the story are fun to figure out with the protagonists. And when the writers are having this much fun cramming in as many pop culture references as humanely possible, it is hard not to get caught up in the amusement. Spielberg pauses the movie halfway through and literally recreates the Shining. Again, this scene is a question of taste: is Spielberg getting star-struck by Kubrick’s great film or losing faith in his vision? Or is he beautifully paying homage to the past? Regardless of the quality of the film, this will clearly evolve into the realms of cult cinema, a film that is just too hard not to smile goofily at every few moments.
My favourite pop culture reference? Easy. As obvious as it was, the Tyrannosaurus from Jurassic Park storming into a scene was just a great example of Ready Player’s sheer audacity. It set the tone and gave me something to pause and rave about.
Final Verdict: Ready Player One is so much fun that the few issues I do have with the film just fade away into the background.