THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
Going into Ready Player One, I had no idea what to expect. The pop culture references were either going to feel like a loving tribute to fandom or utterly excessive throwbacks to the past. Ultimately, it might be a bit of both. That being said, I absolutely loved this film!
Ready Player One tells the story of a world in which reality is considered undesirable and so the population dedicate most of their time to the Oasis, a virtual world, where players can be whatever they want and whomever they want. A poor, young player named Wade (Tye Sheridan), attempts to find the ‘Easter Egg’, which will give him the Oasis creator’s fortune.
Based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name (which I have not read), the film manages to pay homage to many iconic franchises from popular culture, whilst also telling its own story. It’s the references that I will be addressing first. I can certainly understand why some feel frustrated with Ready Player One as barely a minute goes by without some sort of reference to popular culture. It could be a name of a film, a character from a book or a level in a video game. Popular culture is everywhere in the film. Although this bothered some, it made my viewing of Ready Player One, arguably, my most enjoyable cinema experience ever. Whenever the Millennium Falcon was mentioned, a Lex Luthor quote spoken or even the M41A Pulse Rifle from Aliens used as a weapon to fight off waves of enemies, I had a huge smile on my face. Ready Player One reminded me why going to the cinema is special. Steven Spielberg reminded me.
As for the maestro himself… his work in Ready Player One is damn near perfection. Spielberg manages to craft each scene to create the best viewing for the audience. He doesn’t shy away from expressing his inner-nerd self. The action scenes are shot in a way that makes the audience feel as thought they themselves are taking part, particularly during a soon to be iconic race sequence. His focus on building the world of the Oasis really improves the viewing experience as it creates a sense of epic grandeur that films such as the small-scale Tomb Raider did not. This is without a doubt, one of Spielberg’s best directorial efforts in years.
Another aspect of Ready Player One that must be praised is the visual effects. The world of the Oasis is absolutely jaw-dropping. Despite it’s clearly digital aesthetic, the Oasis feels real. As the characters explored it, I repeatedly found myself with my mouth wide open as I stared at the screen in amazement. This film made me feel like a kid again and I am so thankful for that. The most impressive visual spectacle from the film is easily the final battle between the corrupt organisation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and the avatars of other players. Watching The Iron Giant taking on Mechagodzilla was something I never knew I needed in my life. There is still a long time to go before the end of the year but I will be massively disappointed if Ready Player One fails to receive Academy Award and BAFTA nominations for its outstanding visual effects.
The film is incredibly paced. Not a single second of the film feels slow or overlong. The 140 minutes just flies by. This is due to the sense of fun throughout the film, something which Spielberg clearly put an emphasis on during the production. What else can you expect when you have the DeLorean from Back to the Future in a race also featuring the bike from Akira and the 8th wonder of the world himself from King Kong.
As you’d expect from a Spielberg film, the score is magnificent. Originally scheduled to be composed by the legend John Williams, who had to step down to focus on Spielberg’s earlier film The Post, Alan Silvestri’s score is among his best. Not quite the same memorable level of other Spielberg classics such as ET, Jaws or Jurassic Park, but memorable nonetheless.
As for the characters, I was really interested in Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) outside of the Oasis as the character had a birthmark, making her a character of deformity (a minor one) in a major Hollywood blockbuster. Fortunately, none of the characters make a huge deal out of it, which as a person with a deformity myself (a little bit more severe but not major) I not only found this really refreshing but I appreciated it. The characters just accepted her appearance, with Wade’s attraction to her not fading.
The script, penned by Zak Penn (pun very much intended) is fantastic. It has a great sense of humour that I didn’t expect from the screenwriter behind Elektra. This is his greatest work by a mile and makes me extremely excited to see what he does next. However, the script is not perfect. It has a very noticeable flaw with its characters. Although the characters are interesting in their avatar forms, as soon as the film returns to reality, all of the characters become suddenly a lot less interesting, aside from Art3mis. There is very little development for any of the characters, including the lead character Wade. Even though the entire cast delivers solid performances, the characterisation lets them down, and as they are given very little to work with, their performances will be swiftly forgotten. The characters are just more interesting when they are inside the Oasis, and this is a problem as the film spends a lot of time in the real world.
A final negative is something that is more disappointing than an outright issue. The character of Art3mis is initially presented as a bad-ass, no sh*t taking kind of girl who refuses to let herself become attached to anyone, in case it interferes with her mission to bring IOI crumbling down, yet as the film enters the third act, the typical clichéd female plot elements appear. It’s not a major issue as it doesn’t detract from the entertainment drastically. It’s just a little disappointing that the character had to go down the same path that female characters have been following for decades.
If I had to pick a single standout moment from Ready Player One, it is without a shadow of a doubt the sequence involving a certain hotel from The Shining. I’m not going to divulge any plot details but this sequence alone is worth going to see Ready Player One for.
In the end, this is a fantastic film. Not necessarily Spielberg’s next masterpiece but a thoroughly entertaining film that pays loving tribute to popular culture whilst saluting nerds around the world.