Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, is pretty much what I was expecting. At times it was entertaining and full of that Spielberg blockbuster magic. And other times it was quite irritating; with intrusive, lazy exposition, and a lack of competent character development. It’s a film that never lets up. It is full-on with everything. From the infamous amount of references, we were all expecting, to the visual magnitude of all those pop-culture references. It seemed the only thing it didn’t feel the need to go full-on with, where characters or the development of them. I was never bored when watching this film, but I also wasn’t ever invested or had any care for who or what I was watching. I’m mixed on how I want to review this film, as on one hand there’s a lot I could say against it, but on the other, it doesn’t ever stop being what it ultimately is: a fun, mindless blockbuster. I suppose I’ll figure out in my review how I truly feel about this film, so let’s go find out.
Wade Watts / Parzival – played by Tye Sheridan – lives in Ohio in the year 2045. He and everyone else plays in a virtual reality world known as the OASIS. It’s creator, James Halliday – played by Mark Rylance – has passed away but in it has created a hunt for three keys that will grant the winner the rights to the entire game and control over what happens to it. Many hunt for the clues that will lead to the keys, including the nefarious organisation, IOI, led by Nolan Sorrento – played by Ben Mendelson – who seek to take full control of the OASIS and do evil corporation stuff with it. It’s up to Wade and his friends to make sure that doesn’t happen, but of course, it will be no easy task.
I feel I have to start this review off by being up front and saying that I didn’t like the book (written by Ernest Cline, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn) in which this film is based upon, at all. I tried a number of times to read it and just couldn’t get through it. So as you can imagine, I wasn’t that interested or excited about seeing a movie adaption of it. And then when I saw the trailers, I continued to have no desire to see it. I think it’s only because of the response that people around me have had to it and that it’s directed by Steven Spielberg, that I ended up going to the cinema to see this film. I just felt I had to get that off my chest and also give a little context for my mindset going into this film.
I didn’t hate this film. I didn’t leave the cinema feeling I had wasted my time. I sat there in the cinema mostly entertained. Spielberg is no shlub who knows nothing about making a movie. The man gave us the first blockbuster; he knows how to put together a fun experience. And for the most part, Ready Player One is fun. But boy did it put a lot of obstacles in the way of that fun. Obstacles that caused a number of eye rolls. It’s in how this film presents its world, it’s characters, its… well everything, that I found it to be at its most irritating.
The script for Ready Player One is – to put it bluntly: bad. It’s primarily from the script that all the bad elements of this film spawn from. You see, this is a film that never lets you think for yourself. Instead of getting to experience the world in Ready Player One; to explore it naturally through the structure of a good sci-fi film. You’re instead sat down and told everything in either massive dumps of exposition or through lazy, unnatural dialogue. Characters don’t converse with one another, they talk at you; breaking down the inner workings of everything, and coming off more like information terminals, rather than characters in a story.
Take the most overt aspect of this film: the pop culture references. I surprisingly didn’t have a problem seeing them on the big screen. In fact, watching all these properties from the lineage of pop culture interact was actually fun to see. To watch a Gundam fight Mechagodzilla is something you have to smile at and enjoy the craziness of. Now the film did overstep sometimes and one moment in particular where the characters travel into a famous horror film from the 80’s (which I won’t say specifically for the sake of spoilers) was in my opinion disrespectful to both the film and the filmmaker. But when it was just avatars existing in the virtual world and interacting; I enjoyed getting to see that.
What is actually the problem with all the pop culture references is that the film/script handles them in the same way it does its plot and world: it blatantly and lazily telegraphs to you what they are. Rather than just showing something and letting people dive into their memory to remember what it is, the film has to outright tell you. It becomes seriously annoying. I understand they’ll have done that for audiences who don’t recognise the reference, but doesn’t it rather defeat the purpose, if they then just tell you exactly what it is and break down the details of it. Let the audience figure it out for themselves and enjoy the experience of remembering all the little nuggets of pop culture that played a part in their own personal history. Also, why not have some obscure references, rather than just the most obvious ones that didn’t require any sort of detailed breakdown? Unfortunately, the problems with the script don’t stop there.
Ready Player One doesn’t have any actual characters; anyone who you want to care about or follow along with on the nostalgia driven ride. Our Primary characters, Wade / Parzival (Tye Sheridan) and Samantha Cook / Art3mis – played by Olivia Cooke – are as plain as can be. Wade’s entire existence revolves around solving the puzzles left behind by James Halliday (Mark Rylance). That’s all there is to him. Now I understand they want to show that the pursuit for the keys consumes his life, but it doesn’t make for a compelling character when all he is, is pop culture references and solving the clues that will grant him control of the OASIS. And Samantha is no better. Her entire backstory is delivered in a single, awkwardly written line of dialogue. Beyond the OASIS, they have nothing that makes them interesting. Both characters are as lifeless as their in-game avatars.
What’s worse is that they really ham-fistedly force a relationship on the two characters. I at no point believed in their love story, nor did I feel there was any chemistry between the two leads. The first time Parzival said to Art3mis, “I love you,” was so unconvincing and in no way a moment that either character had earned, that I was just left bewildered. It wasn’t until he said it that I clocked on that they were suggesting there might be something between the two of them; that’s how poorly established it was. For them being our lead characters, Neither Wade / Parzival or Samantha / Art3mis were people I ever cared about or worried about when they were in danger. I mean, it’s a little hard to worry about the wellbeing of characters when they’re in the OASIS, seeing as there is no consequence of death. They’ll lose their loot and be reset to a level 1, but beyond that there is no actual consequence for them – which really robs the film of any actual tension or investment in the big battles scenes.
Across the board, there are no actual characters to care about or be interested by – except James Halliday. I was intrigued by him and always interested to learn more about him, and I think a lot of that is because of the performance by Mark Rylance, who always brings something different to each of his characters. Sadly, actors like, Ben Mendelson and Simon Pegg are completely wasted; being given characters of no significant depth or note. Ben Mendelson as the villain, Nolan Sorrento, is your cliché bad guy who does bad things for the sake of it and has no compelling or memorable motivation other than he wants more money.
Ready Player One was a film where all the elements I care most about when watching a film, weren’t to be found. I had no emotional investment and no characters to latch onto – so I just settled in and let the expertise of Spielberg and his blockbuster magic take over and somewhat delight me. From a blockbuster action standpoint, the film has some fun and exciting set pieces that are punched up a little by having some of your favourite properties interact in them.
The future world in Ready Player One is interesting in design, though a little bland and lacking in a contrast of colours between the real world and the virtual one. But when big silly action happens, it’s fun to look at and experience. And I suppose those big silly set pieces did a decent enough job of distracting me from how comically simple the riddles were, that Halliday set up. When I thought back on them or saw them solved in the moment, I had to chuckle to myself because the lack of creativity or complexity was embarrassing.
As I look back on this film and write these words, I’m still conflicted on how I feel about it. There are elements to this film that I enjoyed and for the type of film this is (an inoffensive, fun blockbuster), are well done. But there is also a lot that irritated me or made no significant impact on me. I feel much of this film is a passive experience. You need not think for yourself or make any effort to interact with the film intellectually. I simply found myself sitting back in my seat and letting the silly fun of it all take over. And let’s be honest, this film could have been a lot worse – like watching a bin fire. I think it’s the talent of Spielberg that was able to keep this film from becoming a complete mess – something the script seemed to be trying to do.
I’m of the opinion that a general movie going audience will be more than satisfied with what they get from this film. You can sit there, switch of the old noggin, and let the spectacle of it all consume you for 140-minutes. However, people looking for something a little more complex or compelling should probably look elsewhere. If you have preconceptions about this film, I doubt it will do enough to change them, but if you’re looking for something fun and enjoyable to look at, then this will certainly fill those wants.
So I suppose I’ll recommend, Ready Player One. Once this review has been posted, I won’t think about this film again. While watching it, I was content with the experience I was having, and to be honest: I’m just surprised I wasn’t seething with pure annoyance when watching it. If you make the time to see this film, I hope you find some (or any) enjoyment. In summary: Ready Player One is… fine…
I’m really interested to know what you thought of Ready Player One! Please let me know anything and everything in the comments section down below. It would be great if you would consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll stop asking of you now and instead bring these ramblings to a close by thanking you. Thank you for taking the time to read this review, I truly do appreciate it!