I’m a little late on this one. That’s mostly due to this film’s trailers. A former coworker of mine told me about Ready Player One last summer. Since we lived in Columbus, Ohio, its setting was particularly relevant. A story about how virtual reality takes over society sounded pretty cool to me. Until the trailers came out. Steven Spielberg’s been at it for four decades. Usually, he doesn’t disappoint. However, his latest flick seemed out of focus. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. One of my favorite romantic comedies, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, presents its pros and cons well. We tend to immerse ourselves in nostalgia’s charm to a point where we forget the world around us currently. Although the past is a wonderful museum, it is a horrible home. Spielberg’s Ready Player One buys up nostalgia and sets up shop, leaving believable storytelling miles behind.
Hollywood rarely cashes in on grand ambition. Right from the gate, you know special effects drive this film. And that’s okay. Plenty of movies invest in effects as opposed to layered narratives. James Cameron’s Avatar essentially rehashes Disney’s Pocahontas for a modern audience. It worked rather well. Even though I wasn’t crazy about Avatar, it has a place in film history. Those effects set a new standard. This film, however, milks special effects to the last drop. The first act held promise. 27 years in the future, geopolitics implode, resulting in worldwide poverty. Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) is a tragedy-stricken teenager with an obsession. OASIS is a virtual reality world that allows people escape from the harshness of reality. Its creator James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) passes away and leaves a special Easter egg inside his game. Wade proves more than capable of succeeding.
His knowledge about the trillionaire game designer’s life is second to none. Inside the OASIS, Wade, whose gamertag is Parzival, has three friends. They’ve never met in the real world. Despite this fact, they team up often enough to build an actual friendship. To me, this made sense. That happens even now on video game forums and multiplayer matches. Wade’s best cyber friend “Aech” is an excellent fighter and mechanic. Sho and Daito excel in combat. Although they are close, Parvizal and friends never join a clan. Wade doesn’t believe in clanning up, even though there’s no reason not to. Since his parents passed when he was a child and he has no siblings, Wade’s reluctance proved believable. Yet his emotions didn’t show any kind of painful scars due to his past. Lack of character execution hurt this film.
During a near-impossible race designed by Halliday, Wade meets a famed skilled player. Her name is Art3mis (Oliva Cooke). Throughout the OASIS ARt3mis made a name for herself by kicking ass and taking names. Parzival and Art3mis approach the finish line. However, the one and only King Kong impedes their progress. Wade saves Art3mis from cyber expiration as Kong destroys her beloved motorcycle. He brings her to Aech’s workshop and instantly falls for her while they wait. Wade’s love rushed into existence. Like any teenager, Wade’s feelings get the best of him. Though Art3mis has more important matters on her mind. She is a part of a group attempting to stop an oppressive conglomerate from finding Halliday’s Easter egg. For whoever finds it gains total ownership of the trillion-dollar company. Innovative Online Industries, headed by CEO Nolan Sorrento, plots to seize control over the OASIS purely for profit.
Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goal. This includes bombing Wade’s apartment building when he declines the CEO’s partnership proposal after discovering Halliday’s first clue. Art3mis saves Wade from real death by sending one of her allies to kidnap him. They meet in her group’s secret hideout. Okay, I have to pause here. Following these events, this film’s quality takes a nose dive. At no time in its 140 minutes does Ready Player One give characters ample development. Wade and his friends never meet before he finds Halliday’s clues. Yet all four of them wind up living in Columbus, Ohio with him. By complete chance. Hmm… I call B.S. Cheesy shortcuts make this movie difficult to sit through. Rushed love, impossible coincidences, terrible acting. There is enough Hollywood fluff here to open a factory.
Lena Waithe of Master of None fame disappoints in her performance. As a collective, the Ready Player One ensemble reeks of inexperience. That’s fine, though. A-listers do not make an appearance. However, one actor stood out to me. Mark Rylance’s Halliday was phenomenal. Playing a socially inept super genius is a tall task. His expressions were not gimmicky unlike the visual ploys of this film. Rylance nailed his speaking cadence and body language in the somewhat limited role. Conversely, he could not save this cast from underwhelming. Once the third act hits, everything goes down the drain. The plot becomes dull and predictable. The effects grow tiresome. Sheridan’s Wade Watts loses any momentum he gained prior. It all comes down to storytelling. Some critics praised this film for enhancing the plot’s direction from its book adaptation. Despite not reading the book, this plot bored me to tears.
Yeah, I shed a few tears. After so much yawning, it’s just natural y’know? Although there were high hopes for Ready Player One, it proves one thing in the end. Steven Spielberg is a legend — who has officially exited his prime. Don’t fret, Steve. You’ve served your four decades. No one can say anything to you. Your legacy speaks for itself. However, with poor nerd depictions (in a nerd era) and larger-than-life ambitions, Ready Player One whiffs at an opportunity to leave a mark in our current decade. An uprise from oppression story has a lot of potential. Though here Spielberg and crew leave out nearly all compelling details. They write off the events leading up to the film in a few lines, leaving barren land from which this story attempts to grow. Better luck next time.