Ready Player One

Ready Player One lacks a solid story but excels as pure escapism at the movies.

Breaking the post Oscars lull is Spielberg’s Ready Player One, a Sci-fi action-adventure throwback to not only the golden 80s of cinema, but also popular video games and music of that era. In fact, there are so many references in rapid succession that if you blink, you’d miss a few. That’s not saying the film is perfect. For a project assembled with layer after layer of pop culture references, including the movie magic of Spielberg’s yesteryears, Ready Player One lacks a solid story. Also, what should be a thoroughly nostalgic experience at the cinema is overladen with visual effects just because the studio (Spielberg’s very own Amblin Entertainment) can afford it.

Still reading? Good, because despite some blaring faults, the film is still watchable due to a few terrific moments that hold everything together. Now imagine stepping into a virtual world where you can be whoever you want to be. Thanks to our current and rising addiction to social media forums, the film predicts that by 2045 much of humanity will live in isolation but connected through virtual reality. Called the OASIS and linked in via VR headsets, anyone can do pretty much what they want, and accordingly reap benefits or face the consequences. Staying alive and rising to the top of the leaderboards often require expensive power-ups and upgrades in both the OASIS and the real world. Which is where we meet Wade Watts, the underprivileged teen protagonist who dreams of winning the ultimate prize – a glowing Easter egg that comes with fame and fortune in both worlds. But getting there is the ultimate challenge, especially when Wade has to compete with villainous corporations in addition to the A-Team, King Kong, T-Rex, Freddy Krueger and Lara Croft to name just a few.

With the Easter break round the corner, Ready Player One is perfectly placed as an understated pun in itself. But in blaring its trumpet, the film tries to be the mother goose of golden Easter eggs with references to several cinematic ‘events’, the pinnacle of which is a fantastic tribute to a classic horror film. It’s gets heavy handed from there, and because we are looking at photorealistic CGI characters, the film turns out to be more animation (albeit in ultra-high definition) than live action. While that’s not such a bad thing, watching this for nearly the entire length of the film can get rather tedious. The teen romance that begins to take shape midway doesn’t help either and neither is it required.

Yet among all the frantic action and chaos, Ready Player One has a nuanced message about the disintegration of society and everything that’s joyful about real human feelings. As Mark Rylance’s James Halliday, founder of the OASIS puts it, “As painful as reality is, it’s the only place you’ll get a good meal”. That’s an insignificant line in the film if you don’t stop and understand what it means. Ponder a bit and it’s clear that we wouldn’t need any form of escapism if we were all living in a perfect world. But reality bites. We know it and that’s why we invented escapism. The movies have always been an escape, and despite the lack of any relatable character, the film more than makes up with social commentary that stings. The fact that the film is set in the future but made to look like the past only cements the notion that while the future is blank, the past has many fond memories we can always escape to. Without really trying hard, that’s all this film tries to be. And who better than fanboy number-one to take us back, to the future.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.