Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the novel by Ernest Cline, is a mixed bag. One thing is for sure: You’ll enjoy it much more if you’re a gamer. (I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to how accurately the book is portrayed. I can only give you my opinion of the movie as it is.)
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Ready Player One is set in the year 2045, when people can escape their harsh reality in the Oasis. The Oasis a virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. Oasis creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends — known as the High Five — are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes.)
At the start of the movie, Ready Player One seems to be a movie for grown-ups.
It has a dark tone that’s reflected in the scenery and costumes, as well as the dialogue and action. There are real and painful consequences to the characters’ actions.
But about halfway through, I realized that Ready Player One was going to be more E.T. than Minority Report, two other science fiction movies that Spielberg directed. The hard edges begin to soften. Consequences stop being painful. The villains lose their bite. And when I expected a brutal final battle, the ending is an endless parade of feel-good shticks, wrapped up in a pretty bow.
I won’t spoil the movie, but I will give you an example of Spielberg (or possibly Cline) pulling his punches. One of the movie’s mysteries is set up to give us a pretty serious revelation. However, the big reveal winds up being completely benign, and actually 180 degrees from where I thought it was headed. Spielberg missed his chance to send a meaningful message and instead went with a milquetoast move.
Mixed themes become a problem once the movie gets rolling.
On one hand, Ready Player One has a villain who’s willing to threaten kids with a gun and imprison people for life. On the other hand, Ready Player One can’t bear to portray something as final as death. (If characters “die” in the virtual world, called Oasis, they just lose all the virtual stuff they acquired.) Ready Player One has a weird combination of corporate greed, man’s inhumanity to man, importance of friends and “united we stand,” but refuses to let any of these serious scenes run their course. Scenes are brought up short before things get ugly.
The female roles were disappointing.
In the era of #metoo, I had hoped to see women playing more meaningful characters. One member of the High Five is a girl, but her main purpose (like most female characters in male-driven hero stories) was to give Wade the right clues at the right time, as well as her unending support, then step aside and let him win. What a crock.
Also, I couldn’t help but wonder how delicious it would have been for the main villain to have been a woman instead of a man. Both Jodie Foster and Sigourney Weaver have proven that women can be kickass villains in Elysium and Marvel’s Daredevil, respectively. Instead, the villain is played by Ben Mendelsohn, the dude who chewed the scenery to a pulp in Rogue One. He also works his mandible magic in Ready Player One. And the only female villain was just his lackey. Ugh.
The best part of Ready Player One is all the video game references.
You don’t have to know anything about video games to follow the story, but it sure helps you appreciate the action more. If you’re a gamer, you’ll be more invested in whether the kids “lose their shit.” If you’re not a gamer, you’ll wonder why the hell everyone doesn’t just take off their virtual reality visors and clean up their world. (which is a good question, and one that’s never addressed properly). Plus, if you know video games you’ll recognize a ton of fun avatars in the Oasis.
Another curious thing about Ready Player One is that it’s steeped in ’80s nostalgia. It seems odd that kids would be so interested in Atari games and Stephen King, when drones are delivering pizza and the whole world is living in virtual reality. The explanation is that, in order to win the Oasis game, a player has to know the game’s creator inside and out. He grew up in the ’80s, so everyone studies pop culture from that time period. But the vibe comes off like a cross between John Hughes and Robert Zemeckis. (In fact, one of the items in the Oasis is called a Zemeckis Cube.) Ready Player One never achieves an original style.
Spielberg has it in him to make a family-friendly movie (ish) that’s also downright scary and thought-provoking, like Jurassic Park. Ready Player One gets too mushy in the middle and never recovers its spine.
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