Ready Player One Review: A Fun But Ultimately Empty Ride

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Ready Player One, adapted from Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name, is a fun, visually stimulating ride into a virtual reality world, limited only by your imagination. Is it one of the year’s best? Not by a long shot, but you will likely be entertained along the way.

The film, at its core, is inspired by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and is, in fact, a more futuristic twist on that classic tale. A young boy embarks upon the quest to become the proprietor of the digital world, known as the “OASIS”, and fights off temptation at every turn while also utilizing his encyclopedic knowledge of all things pop culture to solve the clues.

It makes heavy use of that pop culture, directed here by Steven Spielberg – who makes reference to everything from Back to the Future to his own Jurassic Park – to great effect, showing that most people, when given the choice, will fall back into familiar surroundings. Indeed, most people in the OASIS chose their avatars straight out of any number of movies, video games, or books (Overwatch’s Tracer, a StarCraft Terran Marine, Halo’s Master Chief, DC’s Harley Quinn) and the list goes on. There’s even a quick glimpse of a weapon from the Worms video game franchise, the Holy Hand Grenade. There are some truly fun ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos from properties all over the world, most that will be instantly familiar to audiences.

When the film is in the OASIS, it’s fantastic. Seamlessly transitioning from the Minecraft world to the city-sized nightclub, to a darkened, lava-surrounded castle, the visuals are brilliant. The detail in every character is astonishing, and deserves to be applauded. Without spoiling too much, the characters later on make a trip inside a very famous movie from 1980 (itself an adaptation of a book), and the attention to detail from every scene is absolutely fantastic, and is by far the highlight of the film.

The major pitfall of Ready Player One, however, is a glaringly simple one: whenever the film is not inside the OASIS’ digital world, it is incredibly uninteresting. It’s really an odd decision by the film; it goes out of its way to hammer home the message that reality isn’t actually so bad, and then proceeds to make reality as boring as it possibly can be.

The actors do what they can with the material they have to work with, though the script and dialogue lets them down from the get-go (“A fanboy always knows a hater” springs to mind immediately as a particularly egregious example). Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) is the lead as Wade Watts – known in the digital world as Parzival – is nothing more than a stand-in for the audience, for every socially awkward nerd who wished they could utilize their fantastic skills to defeat the “noobs” (something actually uttered in this film), and get the girl in the end.

ready player one screenshots

Ben Mendelsohn (Star Wars: Rogue One, Netflix’s Bloodline) is in fine form as the villainous CEO of a rival corporation, even if there are some questionable moments surrounding his plot armour towards the end of the movie itself. Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg also pop in with some supporting roles as the two creators of the OASIS, whose relationship with one another pushes many of the scenes forward to begin with.

Truly, all of the issues with the movie are ones that are present in the book as well, and it does not seem to have helped the problem when Cline, the book’s author, also (partially) wrote the screenplay. The film seems to have done its level best to leave many of those problems behind, even making the trials that Wade endures more relatable to the audience (vs. him playing an obscure 1980s video game for the Atari 2600 such as Joust), but seemingly picked up all new ones along the way.

In the end, Ready Player One is kind of like fast food – it tastes, looks, and smells great, and the experience of eating it feels awesome. When you’re done, however, you feel a little empty, and by the time you’re home, you’re wondering what else is in the fridge.

Ready Player One arrives in theatres on March 30th, 2018.

You can find Shoaib Alli on Twitter (@SNSAlli) for more thoughts about Ready Player One and a number of other films, games, and more.

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