This well crafted, but essentially hollow piece of fluff is a well intended and, though full of kinetic whizzbangery, dreadfully dull movie about the dangers of mind-deadening escapism. It’s set a mere three decades into the future in an overcrowded, polluted world where people live one on top of the other in vast slum-like trailer parks made of old container crates. It’s a depressing place where life – work, friendships and escape – is experienced virtually via an immersive, fully networked game, Oasis (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersion Simulation).
In the game, everyone can become the self they want to be via their avatar (Bringing their “game faces”?). The story is set in motion by the discovery that the inventor of the game, Anorak (an underused Mark Rylance slipping into his now clichéd “avuncular” mode) has hidden an Easter egg: three keys that open magical doors. The first to find them wins all the riches and power of Oasis.
Wade Watts, aka Parsival (Tye Sheridan from “X-Men Apocaypse”), and his team of fellow avatars set out to find the keys. Standing in their way is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn…”Rogue One”), nasty minded CEO of a conglomerate that makes most of the virtual reality equipment used in Oasis.
I guess if you’re in to gaming, “Ready Player One” may be your thing. But the whole enterprise, cutely studded with pop movie references (Spielberg’s own Easter eggs) feels more like a virtual movie than a real one. People run, have virtual car chases, things morph into other things, they earn credits, lose credits, gain added lives. Whatever.
Problem is, the thrills aren’t particularly thrilling, the adventure isn’t particular adventurous and the world so meticulously created (by Adam Stockhausen) feels like a (very) poor man’s version of James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Because no matter how much the story switches between the virtual and the real, the people never quite emerge as actual people that you give a damn about.
Oasis is clearly meant to signify (and warn of) the end state of today’s zombified gamers and social media residents. And in the end, the “ta-da” moment of revelation is that it’s better to live in the real world than the fake one, where the players have lost the ability to connect. And this, the movie concludes, is a bad thing. You think so? This is the profound conclusion “Ready Player One” builds toward? Really? That’s it?
All that time, money, labour and Spielberg-ean expertise has lead to that momentous insight? Surely “Ready Player One” is a very clever con. It’s a movie-like experience helmed by a Spielberg avatar. For the genius who gave us Saving Private Ryan, Jaws and Indiana Jones couldn’t really have masterminded this!
It’s definitely a brilliant movie. But only if you live in a virtual world. Meanwhile in our own dystopian era, the truth is out here: Spielberg has been body snatched.
READY PLAYER ONE. Dir: Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Zak Penn (“Lego Marvel’s Avengers”), Ernest Cline (from his novel). With: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”), Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Wiithe, Mark Rylance. Cinematographer: Janusz Kaminiski (everything Spielberg’s done). Production Designer: Adam Stockhausen (“Isle of Dogs”, “Bridge of Spies”)