Review: Ready Player One

Score: B

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

"This whole movie is bullshit." So went a text I received from a friend and fellow colleague shortly after our screenings. So yeah, Ready Player One is going to be that kind of divisive.

Based on Ernest Cline's best-selling novel – and improving upon it in many ways – Steven Spielberg's latest adventure is both a joy to watch and an eye-roll to endure. You'll either enjoy the avalanche of pop culture references or be sick of the 300th wink to any mildly popular product of the 1980s.

Set in a dystopian future that's so awful, pretty much everyone on Earth retreats into a virtual reality system called the OASIS, which makes up almost all the world's economy. People actually bankrupt themselves in the real world to be able to acquire digital things in this fake world. In this place, our bland hero is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who goes by the online name Perzival. He's one of the millions of players still on the quest to find three keys hidden by deceased OASIS founder James Halladay (Mark Rylance). The winner will inherit his multi-billion dollar fortune.

So yes, the story of Ready Player One isn't any deeper or more original than an old video game or sci-fi film or any Joseph Campbell "hero's journey" stuff. While Ernest Cline was hardly a great writer, he had an energy that kept you turning the pages even as you tuned out the that cultural touchstones that were never a part of your own adolescence. And what keeps the film from getting bogged down is the film's often dazzling setpieces. One in particular, which sees our virtual heroes encountering a demented version of an actual iconic film from the 1980s, is up there with some of the best action sequences of Spielberg's career. (Of course, some people will think this whole scene is a total desecration.)

But while the film wants to spend most of its time in the OASIS, there's a lot of fascinating unexplored corners of the real world. The big bad of the film is Nolan Sorrento, played with scenery-chewing excellence by Ben Mendelsohn. He's the CEO of the OASIS' chief competitor, which isn't even faceless evil like the OmniCorp of RoboCop. They're actually evil, with a paramilitary force that literally enslaves people who fall behind in their payments. What kind of government would allow such a thing, and has the economic depression that so many people suffer under exacerbated by the very thing that allows them to escape? Those are apparently questions for a smarter movie. After all, their are big battles to be had and increasingly obscure artifacts to reference.

Ready Player One is everything its fans want it to be, and it's not nearly as bad as its detractors would expect. Steven Spielberg has basically made the best possible version of this material with the serviceable-at-best script he was given. There's a ton you could pick apart – including that its two Asian characters get even less to do here than in the novel – but for big-screen spectacle, you could do a whole lot worse than Ready Player One.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

Leave a Reply