Mark Reviews Movies

Ready Player One


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language)

Running Time: 2:20

Release Date: 3/29/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 28, 2018

In the futuristic world of Ready Player One, humanity has receded into a virtual reality world called the OASIS, where anyone can do anything and become anyone or anything (a hulking hero, an elfish outsider, or a slew of characters from pop culture). It's a world in which even the basics for human survival seem to have been replaced by a non-stop quest for digital coins, relics, and game modifications that allow players to drive, fly, or otherwise operate iconic vehicles and robots.

One can understand the appeal of the OASIS, since the real world of 2045 has become mostly unbearable, following civil strife and an obvious economic downturn. The point of the story, written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (based on the latter's novel), is that human beings have adapted to the changing times by switching off the very world that makes them human. What's unfortunate is that the movie reflects that view. For all of its imaginative sights and massive setpieces, there is hardly a single element within the story that shows any concern for humanity.

It's a spectacle, founded on the freedom that the OASIS promises. The movie provides us with interactions between inhuman avatars and an assortment of characters from various areas of popular culture, set within worlds that recreate and modify the real world or other pieces of media. Here, we see a chaotic race through the streets of New York City, which are littered with booby traps, morph into twisting ramps on the fly, and are stalked by a giant ape, which leaps down from its fight with biplanes atop the Empire State Building to cause more havoc. It's the kind of scenario that a kid might dream up while playing with toys. That's the movie's primary appeal—to the mindset of the limitless possibilities of the imagination, unbound by the rules of physics, logic, and copyright law.

Without that human element, though, it is only spectacle, engineered for dazzling visual effects, hectic action, and the opportunity to try to find as many pop-culture references as possible. There is never a genuine sense of wonder or excitement to these sights, mainly because there is rarely a real sense of exploration or discovery within this virtual world. Some of that has to do with the movie's rigid story, which involves a generic quest for items of self-contained importance. Most of it comes from the fact that the human characters exist solely to get us into the artificial world of the OASIS.

That story involves a hunt for three keys within the virtual world. They will unlock an Easter egg within the OASIS, placed within the programming by its five-years-dead creator Halliday (Mark Rylance). Whoever finds the keys and the secret item first will become the new owner of the OASIS.

Our hero is Wade (Tye Sheridan), a teenager from Columbus, Ohio, who lives in "the Stacks"—a neighborhood made of rows of towering scaffolding with stacks of trailer homes. To find the keys, Wade, as his OASIS avatar "Parzival," teams up with his best friend "Aech" (Lena Waithe) and the mysterious "Art3mis" (Olivia Cooke), on whom Wade has a crush.

Meanwhile, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of an evil corporation called IOI, has assembled a team of team of players to find keys. He plans to turn the OASIS into an advertiser's paradise.

As trite and meaningless as they may be, these are the story's stakes. There's little to no danger involved, since we're dealing with virtual avatars, whose "deaths" in the OASIS only result in the loss of digital currency. There's some corporate malfeasance on Sorrento's part later on, involving a giant explosion and a hired assassin, but it means little when the human characters are essentially avatars for the plot to move forward.

The movie is invested in the OASIS, with most of it taking place in that virtual world. It's lovingly rendered with a variety of locales—from a nightclub with a 3-D dance "floor," to a planet where players battle each other for coins, to a museum-like archive of Halliday's memories, to an assortment of places that we pass by on a tour of the virtual world's solar system-like setup. What we know is that these places exist, but there's no personality to them. They're here as backdrops for action.

Director Steven Spielberg, who usually excels at communicating the particulars of such unique worlds, seems held back from exploring these locales in any way beyond the plot. There is a major exception in the form of a lengthy sequence that transplants Wade and his friends into another movie. It's the first and, really, only time that we get a sense of playfulness from the material, as the details of an iconic horror movie are recreated and reimagined to fit the requirements of a video game.

Otherwise, Ready Player One is a visually and aurally noisy exhibition for impressive visual effects and empty action. One of the lazier ways to comment upon a movie based on or inspired by video games is to note that it's like watching someone play one. Since this one features a climax involving characters playing video games within a video game, the movie almost begs for such a criticism.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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