At one point in the opening stretch of Ready Player One, this writer clocked a Minecraft reference and had a sweaty, trippy, alarming flashback to The Emoji Movie. In this sickening moment, this writer reassured himself that, “surely Steven Spielberg would not create anything comparable to that travesty”? Thankfully, mere moments later, a feeling of great relief arrived, as this irrational fear was proved nothing more than needless momentary panic. So, sod the keyboard cobras and their recent wave of absurd social media hatred aimed towards the posters reflecting the film’s quality (yes, the posters, not even any footage, let that sink in) because Spielberg’s adaptation of the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline is in no way, shape or form “The Emoji Movie of 2018”. If you are desperate for a comparison though, Wreck-It-Ralph would service that ambition far better as, like that film, this movie is a celebration rather than an advertisement, and has a human story beneath its wealth of pop culture worship.
Set in 2045, society has become tough but thank the maker for the OASIS, a virtual reality realm that has consumed the attentions of the globe. In this VR world you can escape through your headset and be anything, do anything and avoid the troubles of life. But when OASIS co-creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) announced to the planet that he was dying, he also made everyone aware of a series of Easter eggs he left in the OASIS, and for the lucky individual who finds them goes the ownership of this trillion-dollar virtual world. Ohio teen Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is just one of many eager ‘Gunters’ (Egg Hunters) trying to claim this prize but once on course, will Watts be prepared for the merciless competition?
The aforementioned online dissenters have labelled the film as the death of imagination, however we’d prefer the term ‘fun’. Like the source material, this movie excitably fills the plot with a bombardment of references, as it uses popular culture (predominantly ‘80s born) to bring the OASIS to visually electrifying and fervid life onscreen. In many ways Cline’s text is one that is perfectly suited to cinema and while the plot dizzyingly assaults the senses at times, it is hard to resist a film featuring – among other things - mountain climbing with Batman, The A-Team’s GMC Vandura racing alongside a DeLorean and Christine’s 1958 Plymouth Fury while avoiding a King Kong attack and (in a goosebumpy final fight reveal) a joyous remix of Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla theme.
Half the fun of this feature will undoubtedly be playing spot the reference from the in your face, to the covert, to the blink and miss hard-to-spot cameo. The effects are spectacular as they bring to life a generational mixture of movie, TV and culture and stir it together for a mad ride of big screen exhibition. An equally nostalgic and vintage score by Alan Silvestri (alongside some spot on music choices from Van Halen to Twisted Sister) aids Spielberg, as he goes old school and conjures up another excitable adventure on film, filled with warm yearning for past classics. It does admittedly get very overpowering but such is the nature of the source material and behind the CG cavalcade is a cautionary yet hopeful human tale.
The OASIS’ adrenalized dream-like landscapes are at a contrast with the slum-like real world. Ready Player One warns of the importance of not submerging wholly in fantasy over reality, no matter how tempting that may be. It also, in a rather timely way, warns of the encroaching nature of conglomerates invading social media, as Watt’s story of making a better life outside the machine by the solving the puzzles within soon turns into a rebellious race against the cold corporate forces of greed. It is this human core that helps the film steady some of its break neck pacing and amalgamation of ideas and tributes. The best of which is a mid-section indebted to a certain horror classic (one of many horror nods, including a badass profane moment in the grand climax) that is both hilarious and affectionately crafted, not to mention brazen for a modern 12A film - considering that a good percentage of the intended audience will not be clued up on the film in question.
For a film filled with the ideas of others, Spielberg’s gamer-pleasing blockbuster has many of its own, sometimes too many all at once, as the director and screenwriters Ernest Cline himself & Zak Penn let loose and just enjoy. The script has some stretches that struggle with tone and delivery but never is Ready Player One any less than enjoyable and its characters are joyfully presented. Sheridan makes for a likeable young protagonist as Watts, as interesting support is offered by Olivia Cooke as Art3mis, a strong young woman whose avatar Watts falls for in the game. Ben Mendelsohn also, once again, makes for an effective villain as relentless CEO of power craving company IOI (intent on owning the OASIS). While Watts and Art3mis’ diverse team (known collectively as High Five) come to have greater relevance as the film goes on, with Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki and young Philip Zao making some moments for themselves amidst the madness. Meanwhile a mad haired Mark Rylance is great fun as socially hapless Halliday, as is Simon Pegg as OASIS co-creator Ogden Morrow, as the two are this film’s answer to Jobs and Wozniak.
Ultimately Ready Player One is like being in a movie-themed pinball machine, as Spielberg delivers an optimistic human story with effects heavy nostalgic referential spectacle on top. Press Start to begin, just make sure you take a breather when you can, as you don’t want to zero out!
READY PLAYER ONE / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: STEVEN SPIELBERG / SCREENPLAY: ZAK PENN, ERNEST CLINE / STARRING: TYE SHERIDAN, OLIVIA COOKE, BEN MENDELSOHN, MARK RYLANCE, SIMON PEGG, T.J. MILLER, LENA WAITHE / RELEASE DATE: 30TH MARCH
Expected Rating: 7/10