Ready Player One (2018) (Review)

Returning to the blockbuster fairground he invented with the likes of Jurassic Park and Jaws, Steven Spielberg delivers every fanboy's dream in the shape of Ready Player One, a science-fiction adventure story packed with more Easter eggs than Cadburys. 

2045. Most of humanity chooses to escape the desolation of the real world through virtual reality, utilising software called the OASIS to engage in work and play through their customisable avatars. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) discovers clues to a hidden game within the programme that promises the winner full ownership of the OASIS; he unites with several allies to try and complete the game before indentured players working for a large company manage to do so. Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Simon Pegg and Mary Rylance co-star in the big-budget spectacle.

Ready Player One isn't a film that's made for me. I don't game; an embarrassing number of the movie references went straight over my head; and I'm not too much of a sci-fi fan, usually. I was mainly attracted to Spielberg's latest because a good portion of it was shot in my hometown of Birmingham, meaning the idea of seeing streets I frequently walk was too great to pass up - particularly considering disappointingly few productions take place on our streets.

On the surface level, Ready Player One is entertaining filmmaking. It's a blast at times, actually. While the 140 minutes need cutting down considerably - particularly in the transition from the second to the third act - there's enough splashed on screen to marvel at and find enjoyment in. In its first act in particular, there's an admirable amount of energy on display as the pageant of spectacle flashes by in all its colour and wonder.

In other hands, Ready Player One could descend into absolute chaos; there's so many elements to the film, from the boundary-pushing technology to the sheer volume of the source material it must power through, attempting to please the book's lovers while ensuring it remains accessible to those without a prior connection. No one can deny that Spielberg is a master of his craft, and the fact that he can keep a film as fractious as Ready Player One under control is an achievement in itself. His visuals are well-rendered, with typically first-rate production values in the mix, adding another enjoyable adventure to his glowing collection.

On top of that, Ready Player One really is peppered with some great sequences: the crowning jewel is its ode to The Shining. Kubrick and King's Overlook Hotel is used to blistering effect, inventive, exciting and a source of some truly sharp filmmaking. The editing contained here is especially impressive and this set pieces appears to be a clear highlight for most. It's when Spielberg lets lose a little in these moments that we tend to have the most fun with Ready Player One.

A lot has been mentioned about the lack of character development within RPO, but that tends to be missing the point: the people we present online aren't really our true, complex selves -- they are a simplified, sometimes dramatised and glorified versions, just like the players in the OASIS. A little more tricky to overcome in the notable low-stakes that come with the virtual reality world where nothing really sticks; you rarely feel like the avatars are in any sort of immediate trouble. Sure, it's intense and exciting in its grand finale battle -- but you've no doubt how it will all wrap up. It's as predictable as it is cheesy.

Something else that dampened by enjoyment of Ready Player One was the real-life action that played out alongside the virtual. The relationships presented to us don't wholly work because we have invested more in the avatars than we have the people behind them, with the possible exception of Wade. While the performances were solid across the board, the dialogue lets it down; there's some really clunky moments - "you killed my mom's sister", huh - that take you from the intensity of the moment. "Reality's the only thing that's real" still makes me squirm almost two weeks out from seeing it. Furthermore, the thematic content is as on-the-nose as it comes, with its hatred of all things corporate coming off a little strong at times.

Purely on an entertainment, popcorn blockbuster level, there's a lot of fun to be had with Ready Player One. My inability to find any depth to it is my own issue and while the film has a couple more universal problems - its dialogue and runtime - it's a stylish and effective spectacle with a fair amount of heart and energy. Spielberg does an impressive job balancing everything and while he's working from a weaker script, his efforts are notable, bolstered by a solid ensemble and a real sense of heart.


Summary: Ready Player One benefits from director Steven Spielberg's reliable directorial flair, bolstered by typically first-rate production values and visuals. It's let down by a script as cheesy as it is predictable but as pure popcorn entertainment, it's effective, enjoyable blockbuster filmmaking.