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Categories: Movie Reviews

Spielberg delivers the goods in Ready Player One, writes Matthew Wilson, making up for its lack of original characters with boatloads of legendary ones.

I never read Ready Player One before seeing the movie. A lot of the criticism was placed in its over-reliance on 80s nostalgia, and being born in the 90s, I had no 80s nostalgia. I still decided to see the film because I’ve been waiting to see Spielberg recapture that blockbuster fun, and, while there are some issues, that Spielberg touch does enough to make the film Totally Freaking Awesome.

Set in the year 2045, where life has been reduced to living in slums, nearly every human on the planet resides in The Oasis: a Virtual Reality created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) as a way to be anyone, do anything and live an entire online life away from the desolate reality.

Following Halliday’s death, a quest is set in motion for players to find three keys hidden in Oasis. Whoever can find all three keys, and unlock the secret Easter Egg, will take full ownership of The Oasis. However, in the years since his death, all that anyone has been able to find is an impossible race and now only a group of determined Egg Hungers (or Gunters) are still fighting for the keys.

One such Gunter is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). His avatar, Parzival, works alongside Aech (Lena Waithe) – an orc mechanic – to try and win the first keys. After their latest race, once again, results in failure, Wade has an encounter with Artemis (Olivia Cooke) who is trying to win the keys to keep Oasis out of the hands of I.O.I., the second biggest company in the world, and its CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). When Wade manages to work out the secret to winning the first race, he and Aech team up with Artemis to win all three keys before I.O.I. can ruin Halliday’s creation.

As far as plots go this is a fairly simple ‘Get items A, B and C to unlock D’ but, given its videogame setting, it’s fitting that that would make up the bones of the plot. The meat actually takes a nice reflective look on one man’s life and how he’s trying to teach others not to make his mistakes. It’s not totally unique but it does give the film a little more to it than just a fetch-quest.

Sadly, where the film falls short is in its characters. While the core group of heroes are a likeable bunch, they’re very uninspired and don’t seem to have much to them. Aech fairs alright since they’re with Wade from the beginning, acting as the voice of reason for the young hero, often going unnoticed but happy to stick by his friend even when he’s blinded by cyber-love.

Artemis fares best out of everyone, with her being the focal point of the revolution against I.O.I. She takes on a much more mature role than Wade, having to fight, hide and survive against a much more powerful opponent. She’s not without her flaws. Her personal vendetta, as well as a distinguishing birth-mark on her face, has closed her off to a lot of the outside world but she’s got a cause to fight for and her role in the third act takes her into the lion’s den; which she takes head on.

Wade isn’t a terrible character but we’ve seen this hero-type before. A quiet dreamer who’s basically nobody until he starts winning. I won’t take away from Sheridan’s performance because he managed to keep Wade likeable and change his motives – winning for greed, then love and then for something greater – without detracting from his character. But his character isn’t anything new.

There are a few smaller roles throughout. TJ Miller voices I-Rok, an intimidating mercenary type. Simon Pegg has a small role as Halliday’s business partner, and best friend, Ogden Morrow while Rylance captured the loneliness of a man who realised he missed his chance at life. Sadly the worst of the film was Sorrento. I liked Mendelsohn, and think he’s done some great villain roles, but Nolan is such a cliché that he feels absolutely wasted in the role. All Nolan wants is money and power and there’s nothing else to make him a worthy antagonist.

Spielberg in the director’s chair might not be the draw it once was but, if you have a movie about the 80s, there’s no-one else for the part. On a technical level, the look and feel of Oasis is something to behold. As a place for escapism you can see why it works, with the animated aesthetic allowing your imagination to run free, plus any place that allows you fight Jason Voorhees has done something right.

The initial race that kicks everything off is wild and varied and exciting but it’s a little too chaotic. As much fun as it is to watch the Delorean out-run King Kong, the amount of carnage onscreen was overwhelming. Thankfully they quickly fixed that with the second act which was based heavily around The Shining in a way that was hilarious and therapeutic, easily standing out already as one of the best sequences of the year.

The final battle brings everything together for one glorious brawl with a barrage of characters. The 80s staples are there with Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, Gundam and even Chucky who results in the films’ perfect use of its sole F-Bomb drop but there are more modern characters including Overwatch, Halo and The Iron Giant. And all of them charge into battle with Twisted Sister blaring on the soundtrack. It’s big, ridiculous and so much fun that you just sit back and let the spectacle wash over you.

How people feel about Ready Player One is going to depend on what they want. If you want a deep examination of 80s culture with great twists and complex characters then you’re going to be disappointed. However if you want to watch Mechagodzilla take on The Iron Giant then your inner-child will be jumping for joy.

Ready Player One is out now in cinemas.

Posted on Apr 3, 2018

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