Spectacle for the sake of spectacle has become an all-too-common problem for contemporary Hollywood. Cohesive narrative and characterisation can often get lost in the maze of technological showmanship. Unfortunately, Ready Player One is a film that isn’t worth saving from its visual labyrinth.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from Ernest Cline’s book of the same name, Ready Player One takes place in the dystopian future of 2045 where humanity escapes from the corruption and poverty of their world through a virtual reality simulator named the ‘OASIS’. Right before his death, the game’s founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), orchestrates a mission which calls for players to track down three keys through a series of smaller quests, in order to find the ‘Easter Egg’ – an item that will grant them ownership and control of the OASIS.
Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts – a snobbish teenager who bands together with his love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki) to save the OASIS from being overtaken by Innovative Online Industries (IOI): a malicious corporation, run by CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
Let me get this out of the way first. Visually, Ready Player One is a feast. There is a particularly stunning sequence in which the players must survive a recreation of The Shining (1980). The scene saturates iconic cinema with clues from the mission to create a scene that is both eerie and beautiful. Another notable moment is the first ‘quest’ which consists of completing a vehicle race across an evolving, 80s pop-culture ridden landscape. If 2018 can give us a stimulated King Kong crushing cars in the palm of his hands, then what a time to be alive.
Unfortunately, these are the only notable moments of praise in the two-hour long movie. Sheridan and Cooke recite their lines like a last-minute rehearsal for a sixth-form play. Young love is often endearing in its clumsiness, but their execution is so cringe-worthy that it makes you want to give up on romance altogether. Attempts to structure Art3mis as a leading ‘feminist’ character falls laughably short thanks to Watt’s creepy, misogynistic advances. The shots of comedy exchanged between Mendelsohn and T.R Miller, who plays the bounty hunter I-R0k, backfire to the point where somebody in front of me actually mumbled, ‘God, this is terrible’, during a round of their ‘quick-witted’ exchange.
For all the noise Ready Player One makes, it leaves the audience quiet. It is a shame for a film to be so achingly empty underneath such magnificent visuals. Read the book instead.
Image: Jaap Buttendijk via Warner Bros Entertainment