Ready Player One Review

The Plot

In the future people escape the grim realities of the real world in the Oasis, a fantastical virtual reality where the only limits are your own imagination. A group of young players set out to solve a series of mysterious challenges left behind by the enigmatic creator of the Oasis, in order to win control of this digital world and keep it out of the hands of an evil corporation determined to exploit it and its inhabitants.

The Good

As the legendary creator of so much iconic pop culture, Steven Spielberg is a director uniquely positioned to turn author Ernest Cline’s novel of retro digital delights into a big screen reality. The film does an astonishingly good job of not only making the Oasis a wildly fun and beautifully realistic digital playground, but also populating it with an endless array of pure pop culture magic.

Ready Player One is a shameless love letter to the movies, comic books and video games that define us. The mash up of beloved characters is a wondrous toy box for Spielberg to play with. Seeing the flying Back to the Future Car racing Akira’s bike through a booby-trapped New York, dodging Jurassic Park’s T-Rex and King Kong, is a dazzling assortment of cinematic delights. It’s impressive just how many familiar content the film manages to cram on screen, whilst also simultaneously telling an entirely original story.

In truth it really has been a while since Spielberg made an unapologetically crowd pleasing science fiction epic on this scale and it’s a triumphant return for the master storyteller. It’s hard to imagine a better nostalgic homecoming than Ready Player One. Spielberg manages to inject healthy portions of genuine emotion into effects laden big screen adventure, crafting the film with his trademark gift for wonder and heart.

Rising star Tye Sheridan graduates from a recent supporting turn in the new X-men franchise to competently play Ready Player One’s leading hero. He manages to deliver plenty of exposition heavy dialogue whilst still giving digital dreamer Parzavel some infectious enthusiasm. Olivia Cooke is even more impressive as mysterious heroine Art3mis, a charismatic digital dream girl who lends the film wry wit and some surprising emotional depth. Likewise, Ben Mendelsohn adds another convincing performance to his growing list of recent villainous turns, playing a ruthless corporate slime ball with just the right mix of greedy smarm and maniacal menace. Meanwhile TJ Miller is on typically scene stealing form as evil digital henchman I-Rok.

Spielberg’s latest muse Mark Rylance delivers typically brilliant work as the digital ghost of reclusive tech billionaire Halliday, the creator of the Oasis and a literal spiritual guide for the young heroes playing his game. His performance channels real life iconic figures such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg into precisely the kind of awkward genius that can change and inspire the world despite their own obvious personal flaws.

Though a solid cast are a strong asset for the film, the undeniable star of Spielberg’s digital wonderland is the impressively crafted CGI visuals that fuse nostalgia with inventive fun in virtually every frame. It’s heartfelt crowd pleasing escapism on the most spectacular scale.

The Bad

While every inch of the screen in Ready Player One is frequently bursting with beloved video game and film references, it can at times feel just a little oversaturated. In order to fully appreciate every geeky in joke and familiar character featured you would literally need to freeze frame the action. For every fan favourite that gets their moment of glory there’s another 100 blink and you’ll miss it cameos. Some fans may be a little disappointed to find their personal favourites given a split seconds attention or omitted entirely. It’s simply impossible to cram the entirety of modern pop culture into just one film.

Although it doesn’t majorly spoil the fun, it’s also fair to say that the world of Ready Player One does sometimes suffer from slight gaps in logic and noticeable inconsistencies in how the real world and Oasis effect one another. Not an uncommon flaw for stories built around virtual realities. It’s also a little ironic that a film that exists as the ultimate escapist fantasy also tries at some points to heavy handily warn audiences about the importance of facing up to reality.

The Ugly Truth

In Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg leads audiences on a fun romp through a boundless digital playground, packed to bursting point with our most beloved pop culture. It’s an action and special effects fuelled ride though our collective imaginations that puts our capacity for joyous wonder up against the forces of greed and gloom. It’s a film that neatly encapsulates both our fearful cynicism and our inspired optimism for the future. It also deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Review by Russell Nelson

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