Ready Player One [Film] Review
This review is spoiler free.
Anybody who read my review of the Ready Player One novel will know that I found it to be a laughable waste of potential. I also said that it would make a better movie than it would a novel, and I am now going to tell you that Ready Player One would make a pretty sweet video game. But does the film exceed the novel in quality? Or does it fall laughably flat?
Without getting too caught up in comparing the film to the novel, director Steven Spielberg has changed a lot in the process of adaptation, most of it for the better. The film’s pacing significantly improves on its novel counterpart, and many changes have been made to the plot beats and set pieces so that they would work well within the context of a film. Despite this, Spielberg keeps the overarching plot roughly the same: In a near-future ruined by the human race, James Halliday, creator of the virtual reality game that the human race depends upon for entertainment and income, the OASIS, has died and left behind his inheritance and control over the OASIS to whomever can find his “Easter Egg” within the game. To find the “Easter Egg” a player must first collect three keys, all hidden behind different challenges revolving around Halliday’s interests and past. However, the film’s heroes must race against evil company, the I0I, who plan on using the control over the OASIS to introduce user-fees and advertisements in order to make more money. Hey, it is almost like real life.
It is a simple plot, but given how the film plays out like a video game the plot need not be complicated. Like how some films thrive on their multifaceted plots, Ready Player One uses its minimalistic plot to create a surprisingly enjoyable romp. What could have been a seizure of nerdy references being thrown at the screen with smug dialogue and unbearable characters (you know, like the novel) is a well-crafted visual feast that knows when to reveal its audience’s biggest nerds and when to pull back and focus on plot and character progression. As such, the film does not feel as tedious as the novel, leaving one to hardly feel the 2 hour 20 minutes runtime.
Spielberg rarely wastes a minute, and whilst the audience’s introduction to the film comes in the form of an exposition dump, it is nowhere near as severe as the unnecessary opening 60 page information slog found in the novel. Once that exposition dump is over, however, the audience are rocketed into the film’s first set piece, and the rest is nothing by an adrenaline rush. Of course, Spielberg knows when to slow down the film and take a minute to breathe and let the characters interact, though that in itself is a slight issue. Spielberg, a seasoned director and (by this point) filmmaking legend, knows what he is doing and, as such, plays it very safe. The film feels satisfactory, but rarely punches above those heights.
Thus we have a film with very little to call home about. As previously mentioned, the film is stunning to look at. The virtual reality setting and characters look video game-esque without becoming too nauseating, and the set pieces never become too messy. For the visuals alone, Ready Player One is worth seeing on the big screen if you like fun action movies that will most certainly ignite a warm feeling from your youth. There is one particular set piece in the middle of the film, which is a direct reference to another film, that is heaps of fun on the big screen and certainly would not have the same impact on the small screen. I almost regret not seeing it in 3D.
Behind all of that fun and visual nostalgia though lies a fairly standard movie. A large issue, like the novel, lies with the main character: Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). However, where Wade was exceedingly irritating in the novel, he bares more resemblance to Shredded Wheat here than any action protagonist should. Sheridan’s severe lack of charisma does not help the situation. I cannot believe I am saying this, but there were scenes when I missed Novel Wade’s arrogance for it would have spiced certain conflicts up a little more. Luckily, the film spends a little more focus on its other protagonists, Samantha (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe) than the novel, and improves on the austere issues the novel presents in its female characters. This shift in focus is welcomed, yet Samantha and Aech are still fairly bland characters whom Cooke and Waithe evidently try to breathe life into. Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is a serviceable villain and T.J Miller takes the novel’s most aggravating character, I-r0k, and makes him one of the film’s most enjoyable. Mark Rylance also deserves credit for his believably awkward portrayal of James Halliday.
A few chuckle-worthy lines were present, and the dialogue was much less cringe-worthy than in the novel, which is a surprise considering how one of the writers was Earnest Cline (the author of the novel) himself. Cline was able to sneak a few terrible lines in there (I have not heard the word “noob” in a long time), though it as evident that co-writer Zak Penn kept him under control, resulting in writing that was serviceable. The score and the cinematography were also serviceable. Every element of the film did its job and nothing stood out as outright bad, aside from the occasional poor line delivery. But, as already stated, nothing stood out as outright amazing either.
Yet, a film’s most fundamental objective is to entertain or, at least, captivate. I would be lying if I said that I did not find myself entertained for the duration of the movie. Yes, there were moments where I rolled my eyes and had to suppress a groan, though I cannot deny that I found myself grinning when a certain spaceship from my favourite T.V show emerged from the clouds during the film’s climax, as well as during many other moments. The film is, ultimately, sheer fun. Spielberg rarely has the incredible hold over me that he seems to have over so many others with his films, yet it was evident that he and so many others had an absolute blast making Ready Player One, and that enjoyment certainly rubbed off on its audience. In fact, it is almost enjoyable enough to stop one from asking questions about the world’s logic, such as: if users customise their avatars, then are the recognisable figures from pop culture unimaginative people’s avatars or Non-Playable Characters (NPCS) that are fighting for the good guys? If they are NPCs, why do they care? But if you design your avatar to look like anybody, then why choose an icon of pop culture and not a cool version of yourself?
Silly little niggles aside, Spielberg has polished a turd and turned it into a Weatherspoon’s standard breakfast. It is an extremely enjoyable film with a message at its core that is applicable to today’s society without being patronising. Fans of the novel will greet the changes made by Spielberg as a fresh take on the original story without changing too much of the what made the original (to some) appealing. Still, I cannot help but feeling like the movie could have been a little more. It does not feel like wasted potential in the sense that the novel did, but it, perhaps, could have been a little more daring with its commentary, and its darker moments could have relished by being a little, well, darker. Yet, for all its faults, I am still grinning whilst replaying moments of the film in my mind, and so it cannot be that bad, can it?
Ready Player One is in Cinemas Now.