“Ready Player One” is based on the 2011 novel of the same name, which was written by Ernest Cline. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
“Spielberg has done it again!” several critics have raved about “Ready Player One.” If by this they mean he made another mediocre film that is below his talents as a director just like “The Post,” then yes, Spielberg has done it again.
In the future of 2045, an online world known as The Oasis is the biggest economic resource in the world. Its deceased creator has left behind a challenge for complete control of the online world, resulting in a deadly competition breaking out between a company known as Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and a group of Oasis visitors lead by Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), known on The Oasis as Parzival.
While a movie like “Ready Player One” is indeed below the quality that should be expected from a director like Stephen Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Jaws”), his involvement is one of the few things that keeps this movie at passable mediocrity as opposed to being flat out awful. His knack for using music to elicit emotions from the audience makes certain scenes work tonally and emotionally, and it is obvious he is trying to achieve the impossible endeavor of keeping the focus of the movie on the plot and not so much on the pop cultural elements.
“Ready Player One” feels like one of two things: the ‘Let’s Play’ YouTube video of cinema or the embodiment of stereotypical modern-day cinema. Both are bad.
The ‘Let’s Play’ element comes from the main setting of the movie being based in a video game. All of the well-developed issues that exist in the movie are the ones in The Oasis, so there is a lack of tension or things to care about. Barely anything in the real world feels like it has much weight to it, so the audience does not care, and anything that happens in The Oasis is only harmful to a lackluster extent, so the audience does not care. It is like watching a ‘Let’s Play’ on YouTube: one is watching someone else play a video game with very little real-life stakes, so there is no tension from that.
The stereotype of modern cinema is that it is all out of ideas, and that certainly fits into “Ready Player One.” It is filled with references to major pop cultural things from video games to movies to music. The movie references “King Kong,” “The Iron Giant,” “Back to the Future” and “The Shining,” and those are just the obvious ones. The soundtrack of the movie is also made up of a lot of retro ‘80s music, which was popularized by James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” With all of these obvious references to pop culture, it is easily distracting and makes the movie feel unoriginal. On top of that, given the lackluster nature of “Ready Player One,” it can act as a reminder that one could be watching “Back to the Future” or one of the hundreds of other referenced movies instead.
With all of these iconic and nostalgic images being tossed on screen, it is important to outdo the mere sight of them with some original substance. “Ready Player One” is indeed a visual spectacular, but it never goes deeper than the CGI rendered world that has been created. The characters are underdeveloped, the relationship between Parzival and the character Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) feels phony and superficial and there is one action that is taken in the real world by the main villain (Ben Mendelsohn) that has no emotional weight to it. It should not be that the mere imagery of a pop cultural figure like King Kong should overshadow the movie’s own original ideas, but that is what happens with “Ready Player One.”
The phoniness of Parzival and Art3mis’ relationship is especially problematic because it is the emotional hook of the movie. Instead of being touching, it feels fake because of how rushed the relationship is and that it feels like Parzival is just physically attracted to Art3mis’ digital avatar.
It is interesting to note how many elements of the movie feel underdeveloped because the movie is 140 minutes long, and all of the backstory of the world is told through a repetitive narration at the beginning of the movie. So, with no need to establish the world and close to two and a half hours of screen time to build up the characters and story, almost none of that gets done. It is essentially a bunch of tensionless and uninteresting action set pieces and a couple of what seem to be relatively simple mysteries to solve that all leads up to a one-hour battle at the end.
It is ironic that a movie with a world where almost anything is possible could be so dull and uninteresting.
Final Grade: C