By Billy Jepma
“Ready Player One” is an action-adventure movie with old-school sentiments. It is straightforward, familiar, and shallow, but for all its missteps, it somehow still succeeds in delivering an enjoyable popcorn flick worth seeing for the wild visuals alone.
The story––based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name––is structured after just about every adventure narrative possible.
All the familiar pieces are there––an orphan hero, the comedic best friend, a spunky love interest, the straight-faced villain––and while there’s nothing surprising here, the undemanding fantasy, for all its shallowness, somehow ends up working.
Much, if not all, of the film’s success belongs to director Steven Spielberg, who is able to take a simple, unremarkable script and use it as a springboard for some spectacular moments of action, explosions, and excitement.
The action is where “Ready Player One” thrives as Spielberg directs his audience through some truly dizzying chaos with such skill that it never feels too overwhelming. Where the story fails to do anything new, the action is consistently surprising, and rarely fails to throw something interesting on-screen.
The CGI can feel overbearing at times, but when there’s a Delorean hurdling down an exploding cityscape while both King Kong and a T-Rex devour the hapless drivers in their path, it’s hard to complain.
In many ways, it is the Oasis itself––the online video-game world where most of the film takes place––that steals the show.
There is always something exciting to look at in the Oasis. Each new scene invites viewers into a colorful and diverse environment of oddities, pop culture references, and visual energy that goes a long way in making up for the inherent shallowness of the plot.
Still, for all its thrilling spectacle, “Ready Player One” remains an underwhelming experience, as the plot and character fail to demonstrate much agency or individuality.
While the characters sport some strong character designs when in the fantastical world of the Oasis, they lack any clear motivation, and what little development they receive feels rushed and unearned.
The cast consists of a litany of talented actors who all do their best with what they are given, but when the material is so one-dimensional, not even a group of accomplished performers can fully redeem it.
There are some standouts, however, as Lena Waithe––the “sidekick” character to Tye Sheridan’s protagonist Wade Wilson––and Ben Mendelsohn––the suave, well-dressed villain––are able to elevate otherwise stereotypical characters into genuinely enjoyable archetypes.
It’s also worth noting that many of the more problematic, rightfully criticized aspects of the source material have been done away with. That’s not to say the story has been improved, but rather, that it has been toned down to the bare essentials, ditching the sometimes creepy undertones that were known to pop up in the book.
“Ready Player One” is a movie that, for better or for worse, could only exist today. It’s a wild, CGI-driven spectacle with nostalgia and pop culture references infused into its DNA.
While it is an inherently superficial experience, Spielberg’s dynamic directing and the film’s many stand-out set pieces make it an enjoyable one nonetheless.