For the past few years now, legendary director Steven Spielberg has made some great films, including The Post and Bridge of Spies. But these are very much films, made with a certain audience in mind and made in a much different fashion than mainstream films. But Spielberg is also the man behind Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, he knows just as much about blockbusters-heck he invented them with Jaws! So he returns to the genre with Ready Player One, based on the book of the same name. So how does it fair?
For those who’ve never read the book, the plot follows an orphan named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who lives out his life in a virtual reality MMO called the Oasis. He does everything here, from school to make online friends. But the real draw is cracking Halliday’s Easter Egg. The creator of the Oasis (Mark Rylance, terrific) may be dead, but he’s placed a treasure hidden with the Oasis for someone to claim. The prize is half a trillion dollars and control of the Oasis. One just has to solve three riddles based on pop culture references to do it. An evil, money hungry corporation called IOI, led by Ben Mendelsohn’s Noah Sorrento are also after the Oasis in order to monetize the system.
Let’s just get it out of the way. Yes, there are a million and a half references in the film and some of them are really awesome. There’s a whole sequence dedicated to an 80s film that’s legendary and one of the best parts of the film. But the references are largely background based and with a few exceptions, have no bearing on the plot. That being said, it’s really awesome to see an orc shoot Duke Nukem and Freddy with a Halo assault rifle or see the DeLorean and Kaneda’s bike race alongside the Batmobile, King Kong and the V8 Interceptor.
This is straight up a popcorn movie that’s made in order to have fun with it. This could have easily been a fun, turn off your brain action film and it would’ve likely pleased the masses. But this is made by Spielberg, so there’s something extra to it. The film has heart and plays with our emotions in a campy way that would feel right at home in an 80s Spielberg film. The director responsible for bringing CGI to the big screen with Jurassic in ’93 seamlessly blends live action and CGI/animation here, as the virtual reality scenes are all computer generated. At first, I thought this would pull me out, but seeing as the Oasis is a computer simulation, complete with avatars, the slightly cartoony look just worked so well.
What didn’t work as well were some of the side characters, who didn’t have as much to do as Wade does. Olivia Cooke is great as Art3mis, but I wish we got more on her story considering the large role she played in the film. T.J. Miller is in the movie as well as I-Rok and I personally would’ve preferred someone else, scandal notwithstanding. His lines were funny, but they just felt so…T.J. Millerish that it took me out of the film a bit. Also, fans of the book should know that there’s a lot changed in the film adaption, including the three challenges. While the second challenge was great, the first one felt kind of lazy to me, knowing what was done in the book instead. It was visually pleasing but lacked the fun trivia of the book, which is overall still better than the book overall, despite some cool and clever changes made throughout the film.
On the up hand though, the score was fantastic, done by Back to the Future’s Alan Silvestri. It felt so 80s, like a lost recording from that previously mentioned film. The original tunes were also great, with a heavy dose of the 80s from the likes of Van Halen, Twisted Sister and more.
Overall, Ready Player One is a fun, entertaining film that’s directed well and acted well. Is it Spielberg’s best? Heck no, it’s pretty average for him to be honest. But in that regard, it’s still better than half the movies out there as this is a man who understands the medium and the genre. You won’t be blown away, but you’re going to have a really, really fun time at the movies and that’s the way it should be.