So…this is what I have to look forward to in my city in 27 years? Columbus, Ohio—or much of the world for that matter—has dropped precipitously in regards to quality of life. Most, like Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) live in slum stacks, tightly-compacted RV-like homes placed on top of each other. How do you escape this reality?
Many do so by stepping into the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, known as the OASIS, largely the brainchild of the late developer James Halliday (Mark Rylance). In the OASIS, a person can be whoever they want to be, do whatever they want to do, like whoever they want to like. Before his death, Halliday embedded an Easter Egg in the form of a three-part quest. Finishing this quest successfully gives the player full control of the virtual reality and everything the visionary owned. This promise of a better real life gives Wade, a.k.a. Parzival and his digitized friends the drive to keep trying, but as Innovative Online Industries and its power-hungry CEO Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn) become desperate to seize world power, there are no depths that he will not go to whether in the virtual world or the real one.
In the 80’s classic of National Lampoon’s Vacation, it was Rusty Griswold who asked his father why they were not flying to Wally World. Clark’s reply: “Cause getting there is half the fun, you know that!” That’s the line yours truly keeps on thinking of when summing up Ready Player One, the film adaption of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel with the same name. This is an 80’s-fueled journey with a predefined destination that is not without potholes, but a fun and very smooth trip in long stretches.
It’s been some time since Steven Spielberg lent his hands to a science fiction feature; 2005’s War of the Worlds to be exact. With Ready Player One, it feels like Spielberg’s never left the genre. Aesthetically resembling a cross between Warcraft, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, and The Matrix, this is easily the best video game looking movie that technically isn’t rooted around a real game. Never one to have difficulty with massive setpieces, Spielberg uses a lot of 80’s cultural touchstones (and a few current ones) to create exciting set-pieces in the OASIS world. Two explicitly stand out, one early on that takes a few iconic characters and places them in a Burnout-like race, and another that is better seen than stated for maximum surprise. Steven toggles effortlessly from the VR to the realistic ghetto stacks, but similar to all who slip on their get-up to play, the OASIS is the star of the show. Recommendation: See this in 3D.
Though undoubtedly sci-fi, Ready Player One is firmly on the lighter side of the spectrum when it comes to themes and questions. There’s an interesting thought about reality versus virtual reality and the idea of getting attached to a person without actually knowing who they are, but nothing that other movies—or Catfish—haven’t delved in deeper on. For two-thirds of the runtime, Spielberg’s latest is well-paced, leaning on exposition and clue reveals that encroach on overkill but are offset with well-timed humor and action. There’s an endearing ridiculousness to it all that Spielberg taps into and seems to be well aware of.
Then, the elongated final act happens. Making it worse than it sounds. No, RP1 doesn’t collapse on itself, in part because there’s not much there in the grand scheme of things. But as the story attempts to ascend to more heavy beats, little registers to leave a mark. Jokes start to feel way more telegraphed as well. Throw in a score by composer Alan Silvestri that manages to be too orchestral and over-the-top for a film such as this one and the common sentimental complaints that Spielberg has received in the past come up again. Additionally, it’s impossible not to think of the famed website “TV Tropes” as the final act unveils. Heroes are whisked away at the last possible second from danger. The difficult act is completed right before bad intentions are carried out. Sure, there’s a little “tropiness” in every media form, but with the frequency they appear with in Ready Player One it makes for an empty emotional experience.
This carries over to a large bulk of the cast, too. Despite some teasing as to who these OASIS avatars could be in the real world, they pretty much play out as their virtual facades would lead one to believe, literal and figurative stereotypes. Even Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts isn’t super compelling, but, he’s certainly likable and charismatic enough to not get annoyed with. As par for the recent course in recent movies he’s appeared in, the show-stealing award goes again to Mark Rylance, this time delivering dry humor in Asperger’s-esque fashion along with the dramatic elements featured in prior Spielberg collaborations.
What’s the ultimate reality of Ready Player One? To frame it as a video game, it’s like a video game that is light on an engrossing story, but generally makes up for it with damn near flawless gameplay, a significant multiplayer component, and some replayablility. Achievement mostly unlocked.
Photo credits go to signature-reads.com, film-book.com, and nerdist.com.
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