In the year 2045, life all around the world has become so awful that people spend most of their time in a virtual reality called the OASIS. When its creator (Mark Rylance) dies, he challenges people to find his Easter Egg (not the chocolate variety). Whoever finds it will inherit his fortune and control the OASIS. In order to keep the dream alive and stop the OASIS from falling into the wrong hands, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) must use his avatar to complete the challenge.
Having released The Post (which was made in its entirety during the post-production of Ready Player One) in December, Steven Spielberg returns to big-budget, blockbuster filmmaking with this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel - his first science fiction film in over a decade.
Central to both the film and Cline’s book is the concept of the OASIS, which allows adored characters from 1980s and 1990s pop culture to live forever in a world of video games. In many people’s eyes, Spielberg was the perfect choice to helm the project as his films formed and influenced much of the culture. The veteran director certainly doesn’t look back in anger, as he embraces the nostalgia that defines the OASIS. The constant references and variety of characters fit well within the virtual world and provide several nice moments, but little by little, they begin to detract from the film.
Apart from an excellent scene that takes place within a famous Steven King adaptation, the nods to pop culture offer very little to the story and begin to act as a distraction. Some might say that this may well be purposeful, as the narrative is very thin. In order to obtain control of the OASIS and halt the villainous Sorrento’s (Ben Mendelson) masterplan, all Wade needs to do is complete three challenges, which become increasingly tedious and do not warrant the 140-minute runtime.
Despite its narrative flaws, the Ready Player One is a visual treat. Generated by almost 1500 digital effects shots, Spielberg realises both the dystopian real world and the virtual world beautifully. Through these contrasting worlds, Spielberg attempts to question the nature of reality as life in the OASIS and the real world begin to overlap. However, any thematic development is side-lined swiftly as the challenges take centre stage. This is to the film’s detriment and suggests that a focus on the danger of increasing reliance on technology would be considerably more engaging.
The action set pieces are where the film is at its strongest, especially the Mario Kart-esque races, which are thrilling, immersive, and innovative. The pop culture references also work best during these set pieces. By combining numerous villains and obstacles from past films and video games, Spielberg constructs action scenes that possess a genuine sense of threat and are unlike anything he has made before.
Aesthetically stunning, but overlong and let down by its weak story and characters, Ready Player One is a substandard Spielberg film, which says more about the strength of the director’s back catalogue than the mediocrity of this. The film’s strong box office performance will ensure that the director won’t slide away, but here’s hoping Indiana Jones 5 marks a return to form. Don’t hold your breath.