Film reviews

Ready Player One – Film Review

Never would I predict to see the DeLorean travel beyond 88mph, but not time-travel… Steven Spielberg is back on the big screen with a wild ride of pop culture mayhem in Ready Player One. Are you ready?

Adapted from Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name, Ready Player One is, perhaps, the greatest tribute to popular film of yesteryear. Ready Player One is a hybrid of old and new, as it is a hybrid of utopian and dystopian too. In establishing these hybrids, Ready Player One presents a dystopian environment with a utopian virtual reality, known as the OASIS, whilst the “old” appears in the form of pop culture figures (primarily 1970s-90s) within the virtual reality, and the “new” is the advanced virtual reality equipment and platform itself.

Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) is Wade, a very average-looking young adult living with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend within a slum neighbourhood consisting of, essentially, tower blocks of caravans. To escape a rubbish reality, Wade engages in the greatest virtual reality to ever exist: the OASIS. In the OASIS, Wade is in the form of his avatar, “Parzival”, who possesses three key aspects: he has friends; looks cool; and drives the DeLorean.

The pop culture available within the OASIS ranges from climbing with Batman to driving the Interceptor from Mad Max – the possibilities are endless. When the plot transcends into projecting the story events within the OASIS, Ready Player One transitions from a live-action film to a CG one and back-and-forth. The quality of the live-action and animated hybrid has certainly evolved since the days of Tron.

OASIS is far more than just a leisurely platform, as after the death of OASIS’ very-mellow creator, James Halliday (Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance), there has been a hidden game known as “Anorak’s Quest” – the challenge is to obtain three keys (aka Easter Eggs – gaming terminology for a hidden item) from three almost unwinnable games, with two including a race featuring a hungry King Kong towards the finish line, and the other being completion of an alternate version of The Shining. The prize is… full ownership of the OASIS and much more. Yes, Ready Player One has gone full-on Willy Wonka.

In attempts to increase his chances of winning the unwinnable, Wade/Parzival frequently visits a visual archive in the OASIS of James Halliday’s life experiences. When Wade/Parzival finally wins the first key, and is rewarded with 100,000 coins for the OASIS, he has attracted the attention of Ready Player One’s corporate villains: IOI, a lead manufacturer of virtual reality equipment, led by Nolan Sorrento (Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn).

Additionally, Wade/Parzival has attracted the attention of fellow avatar, Samantha/Art3mis (Quija’s Olivia Cooke), of whom he forms a faux relationship with in the OASIS, though subsequently in the real world, Samantha urges Wade to fight against the enemy of her rebel alliance: IOI. After the first Easter Egg win in the OASIS, “Parzival” is now a household name within the OASIS, but Wade/Parzival along with Samantha/Art3mis is a target – in the OASIS and real world – of IOI, who want to achieve the same accomplishment as Wade/Parzival, but to be evil instead…because they’re the villains. Can Wade/Parzival fulfil his destiny as the chosen one or will IOI score a victory for Corporate America?

In one glance, Ready Player One looks to be a flattery piece for film fans from select eras, however, this spectacle does actually possess components that manages to attract the new generation as well as the old. VR (virtual reality) is hot in the real world – we see it displayed in shopping centres and in collaboration with the PS4 – and it is a key device in attracting younger viewers in a film rammed with mysterious content and “the baddie from Rogue One”.

Whilst accommodating the younger of film fans with a futuristic and highly desirable presentation of VR, Spielberg essentially sets that fan base up to be criticised late on. Ready Player One can be ready as a commentary on the way in which people interact with modern technology, such as those who choose to live their life on social media, instead of real life – the multiple suggestions of realty being most real thing confirm this.

Though Tye Sheridan’s performance is a satisfying viewing, though far from carrying Ready Player One, but that could possibly be because it doesn’t really matter… Sheridan’s Wade is the hero, but the enjoyment of Ready Player One is not solely about Wade, but rather the filmic references, visual effects and ideas suggested. On the flip side of importance, as Wade IS the hero of Ready Player One, the audience should be presented with a well-built character worthy of winning/completing Halliday’s OASIS.

Additionally, the romance story between Wade and Olivia Cooke’s Samantha falls flat and transcends into a combination of unimportance and irrelevance after they are revealed to each other in the real world. As the romance is heavily built-up and sold in the OASIS prior to the real world reveal, it is a shame to see hardly any character development of Wade and Samantha as a pair in the real world.

On the flipside of the hero is the villain. Like his performance as Orson Krennic in Rogue One, Ben Mendelsohn is yet again a convincing, underhanded film villain in an enormously big film. Like Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke is much more entertaining in the OASIS as Art3mis. In the real world, there is an alarming lack of why exactly Samantha is rebelling against IOI, other than being anti-corporation. The audience can see why Samantha doesn’t like IOI, but there just seems to be that lack of a well-grounded back story and character development.

Visually, Ready Player One is a state-of-the-art spectacle. Ready Player One sits proudly amongst Blade Runner and Avatar within the “style over substance” category, though Spielberg’s latest triumph does actually have a fun story for its audiences to follow.  

Admirably, Ready Player One is much more than just a popcorn film where the immersion ends at the credits. Presenting a greatly ambitious usage of VR, audiences of Ready Player One have left the cinema now debating the subsequent levels of which VR and videogames can achieve and when it can be achieved. With this occurrence, Ready Player One is a film that is both forward-thinking and naturally effective. The viewing of Ready Player One has manipulated the thoughts and theories of how the future generations will live, thus establishing that Ready Player One is much more than a film, but potentially a cultural phenomenon.

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