So, I’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I’ve also read the much-maligned book. And now here I am. Before I get into this I need to get something off my chest. The first is a fact we all very much know, Steven Spielberg is the cream of the crop when it comes to blockbuster entertainment directing. He will undoubtedly go down as one of and, arguably, the greatest living director of our generation. His talent is undeniable and will be remembered for ages. That being said, Spielberg like many other directors has made some clunkers and is not perfect in every single film he puts out. This leads to my next point. Spielberg is one of my favorite directors ever. Because his filmography is so important to me when I was both child and as I am as a young man, he essentially gets a free pass for life from me. Nothing else he could do via his work would ever diminish the respect, admiration, and love I hold for this man. But with this free pass means one thing that I’ve only come to really realize recently, and that’s simple: I have never rushed or had a desire to see a Spielberg movie as soon as it’s released. Unlike directors such as Christopher Nolan, Ryan Coogler, or many others, I’ve never really felt that same rush with Spielberg. Now maybe that’s because the last time I rushed to see a Spielberg joint, it just happened to be Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (We all know how that turned out so there’s no need to say what hasn’t already been said numerous times). Essentially while I have seen many Spielberg films in theaters, this is the first time in a decade that I went out opening weekend to see a film of his. But all of this is to say that I had no desire to see Ready Player One. And yet I did.
By and large I was not going to see this film. The book I remember reading was fairly unmemorable, and though (very much like the film) it made me chuckle now and again, it was largely devoid of anything worth dissecting. To put it short, it’s the only book I can remember reading that’s acted like a popcorn movie that I’ve never given a second thought to. But through the power of social media, and some trusted individuals, I was otherwise convinced (Yet still cautious) to see this. Starring Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, Olivia Cooke as Samantha Cook, and Ben Mendelsohn as Nolan Sorrento, Ready Player One follows Wade as he traverses the OASIS, a virtual reality world in search of three keys that have been left behind by its long dead creator, James Halliday. The prize for finding all three keys leads to the winner getting Halliday’s stock in the company and total control over the OASIS. This of course leads to a virtual worldwide Easter egg hunt, which is also includes the corporation IOI, which is led by Mendelsohn’s Nolan Sorrento. For the most part the cast does a serviceable job with the material they have. There’s nothing noteworthy here, and no one truly stands out. Whether that’s a case of the writing from Zack Penn and author Ernest Cline, or the performances, I can’t tell. Wade has at least been improved and is no longer a stereotypically looking nerd that he is in the book, but beyond that everyone here seems fine. Also, I’m not particularly sure what Mark Rylance is doing as Halliday, but he seems positively bored out of his mind. I get that Halliday is supposed to be socially awkward and aloof, but I don’t get that here at all. On a more positive note I will say that by casting Ben Mendelsohn as the primary villain, he exudes his very best Ronny Cox while looking like the late great Paul Gleason. He looks like the best 80’s villain we could’ve gotten in a movie that adores that time period and the film is better for it. That being said he looks supremely off and I have no doubt that has something to do with the set of huge false teeth he’s wearing for the majority of the runtime.
For the most part Spielberg loosely follows the events of the book. He largely simplifies the challenges that are needed to be completed in order to win the keys. The first challenge is an uninspired race. The second is a something I really don’t want to spoil just for how damn good it is. And the third is essentially ripped straight out of the book, final battle and all. It’s good that both Spielberg and the writers balanced out the 80’s references and made it for pop culture up until today. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a giant smorgasbord of winks, nods, and flat out slaps to the face of the things you’ve seen before times ten. Was it cool watching Chucky go nuts and the ensuing chaos of players fleeing? Yes. Was Gundam versus Mechagodzilla one of my absolute favorite parts of the film? You bet. But that’s it. It’s a smattering of images of beings and places and things I’ve seen a thousand times, and while its “cool”, it’s really all there is. For me, it’s the first time I’ve felt Spielberg truly went style over substance, and while his version of that is better than 90% of other imitators, it’s still just what it is. At the very least Alan Silvestri brings it with the score, and one that is extremely reminiscent of Back to the Future (No doubt because 1. He scored the very same film, and 2. Wade drives a DeLorean. I found myself really enjoying the music and Silvestri’s cues and callbacks to other films (Especially Godzilla) had me grinning like a fool.
One wouldn’t be wrong for thinking I’ve ragged on Ready Player One for the majority of this review, and that because of it, that I did not like the film. The truth is, I had fun. I really enjoyed the film, and I chuckled quite a bit throughout (Both for references and some solid jokes). But that doesn’t mean Ready Player One doesn’t have flaws. It does. And some glaring ones at that. What Ready Player One feels like is the cinematic equivalent of smashing all your different toys together as a kid for some “story” you just cooked up on the spot (We all did this, and if you say you didn’t I don’t trust you). It’s fun when we’re kids and for the most part it’s just pure fun imagining some of these fights that are seen onscreen. But that’s just it. We grow up. We tell better stories and have a better idea of the things we like and how they relate to each other. And you know what? This movie probably works wonders for many kids out there, if not many adults as well. Sometimes we just need some Spielbergian entertainment, and who can argue that this film isn’t just that? Has he done better than this? Absolutely. But it’s not the worst film I’ve seen this year. And it’s by far not the worst Spielberg film I’ve seen (Still waiting for a proper Indiana Jones 4). But it for sure could’ve been better. It seems likely, that Spielberg’s next entry will be another Indiana Jones film. I remain cautious with the outcome of that film, but for now I’m glad I went out to theaters to see Ready Player One. It wasn’t the dumpster fire I expected it to be and instead it’s something a little more, but also something very much the same. I encourage you guys to go out and make an opinion for yourself on this. I’m torn, but I’m glad I saw it for better or worse.