Film Review – Ready Player One

The latest from Steven Spielberg is a sci-fi film based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline. I thought it was spectacular by unsatisfying, with an overabundance of 80’s nostalgia to distract from the weak characterizations and story which all gets a bit boring after a while, though the early parts are a lot of fun. I’d say your enjoyment of it will depend greatly on your familiarity with 80’s pop culture.  By the mid-21st century, virtual reality sophistication has grown so great that people can escape their mundane reality for the limitless glamour of these digital realms. The biggest and most popular is the Oasis and upon the death of its creator a treasure hunt is launched for the keys to the kingdom: the winner becomes the majority shareholder of the company stock. It’s Willy Wonka by way of The Matrix.

Tye Sheridan plays Wade, a standard everyman/nobody/unlikely hero, and Ben Mendelsohn is Sorrento, the corporate shark out to win at any cost, employing hundreds of players to get the keys for him. There are other forces at work, such as a group of revolutionaries who want to stop the corporatization of the virtual realm, but the cliché set-up and predictability of the pay-off made the second half of the movie a bit tedious for me and that’s all I really remember.

The action sequences are great fun and have the magic Spielberg touch that lets you know exactly where you are at any cut. I do love the man for his clarity of geography and I really enjoyed the opening car race. However, the real-world physics of the film were so incongruent and inconsistent that I got rather annoyed. Unlike in The Matrix where entering the VR world puts you in a real-world trance, here we have a ludicrous interactivity between real and VR that is so wildly inconsistent it made me angry. For but one example, during the big war inside the Oasis in the third act we see people running around in the real world wearing VR headsets and miming out the actions they are taking in the Oasis, but the real world has buildings and cars and other people that don’t match the VR world, so why aren’t they running into walls?

Also, the real-world is so poorly fleshed out that I really didn’t understand what the stakes were. I had no sense of government authority until the cops suddenly showed up at the end to arrest the bad guy which just landed with a thud for me. None of the characters seemed to have any depth or authenticity, just playing out parts expected of them by the story, but I do have to say I enjoyed Ben Mendelsohn who is always wonderful, even playing a two-dimensional villain.

Ready Player One  is okay. I don’t think it’s bad, but its better parts are weighed down by its failings. A fun diversion if you are a fan of 80’s pop culture, but not much more reason to see it than that, in my opinion.