Film review: ‘READY PLAYER ONE’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Stephen Spielberg’s Ready Player One is an enormous nerdgasm, a sprawling big screen video game stuffed with retro pop culture references and teen geek heroes. Based on the 2011 Ernest Cline novel, the film is a love letter to gamer culture which means some are going to adore it while others may find it alienating and headache-inducing.

The film propels us into the year 2045 where much of society lives in favela-like slums called ‘stacks’ and where the inhabitants attempt to escape from reality by plunging into the virtual world called Oasis. One of Oasis’ biggest devotees is Wade (Tye Sheridan) a teen nerd who adopts the on-line avatar Parzival. When the world learns that the late Oasis creator David Halliday (Mark Rylance) has left a series of Easter eggs and challenges within Oasis that will provide the winner with phenomenal riches and complete ownership of this virtual world, a frenetic race ensues to unlock the secrets hidden within the game. Cyber geek Charlie Bucket, Wade knows that winning this quest will save him and his aunt from desperate poverty. Unfortunately, a sinister company IOI led by corporate meanie Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) also wants control of Oasis. Teaming up with the on-line incarnations of four friends, Wade tries to negotiate the tangled maze of Halliday’s clues while battling Sorrento in a conflict that eventually reaches into the real world.

Mixing The Matrix, Tron and touch of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Ready Player One is an inventive amalgam of action, science fiction and pop culture obsession. On a technical level the film is phenomenal with astonishing CGI used to capture the world of Oasis and some clever integration of pop culture tropes including having the team insert themselves into a famous horror film. Still, it’s hard to get past the fact that most of the time we’re watching characters in a virtual world who will be entirely unscathed when shot with laser cannons or chomped by Mecca Godzilla. Consequently, the action, while hyper-kinetic and cleverly constructed, lacks tension and real excitement because there’s almost nothing at stake.

Spending much of the film as the voice of his Parzival avatar, Tye Sheridan doesn’t have much opportunity to establish the character of Wade, consequently it’s hard to care much about him. In fact, Olivia Cooke makes a much stronger impression as his love interest the feisty heroine Samantha aka Artemis who leads a resistance movement against the corporate oppressor IOI. Ben Mendelsohn, who seems to be the go-to guy for sleazy sci-fi villains these days, impresses as the despicable Sorrento.

While everything that happens in this film might be entirely clear to long-time fans of the novel and the video games referenced, some of the action is hard to follow. Spielberg has attempted to overcome any confusion by having characters constantly describing what’s going on either through voice-over or by having them guide others through virtual worlds and this constant exposition becomes a little irritating after a while.

For its technical achievements Ready Player One is certainly a remarkable piece of work but as a human story, critique of corporate greed and a satire on technological obsession, it doesn’t grasp us as powerfully as it should.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Sci fi/ action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Steven Spielberg.

Release date: 29th Mar 2018.

Running time: 140 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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