Good to see that Steven Spielberg still has that range. From light-hearted family films like E.T., to more intense thrillers like Jurassic Park and The Post, I’ve never trusted the man to deliver any less than the best.
That’s no different here, with Ready Player One (hereafter referred to as RPO). I could watch this film ten, twenty, a hundred times, and still not be able to pick up on every little callback and nuance and reference Spielberg makes—be they front-and-center, or in the background of a single, fleeting shot. Visually, Ready Player One is a feast; I figured, if anyone could pull this off and have it not be a bombardment of wrenched-in pop culture and nods, it was the mind behind most of my cinematic upbringing.
With a poignant plot—a world ruled with an iron fist, in desperate need of a “hard reset”—this film is made for nerds. Spielberg, himself, is one of us. The stellar soundtrack, the tantalizing visuals (which take up close to 90% of the runtime), the great characters, and fluid action all make for a fun popcorn flick, as well as a deeper-meaning film about the strength of ourselves when we stand as one. This is a story about the kids—the next generation coming up to take the mantle. While there are some cool concepts and little tid-bits that are teased early-on, and then never brought up again, it all got lost to me when the plot got moving.
I was utterly captivated.
Big stars like Mark Rylance (The BFG, Bridge of Spies) and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Mission: Impossible series) take a back seat to newcomers Tye Sheridan (Detour (2017), X-Men: Apocalypse) as Wade/Parzival, Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Ouija)—love her—as Samantha/Art3mis, and a slew of others. Their group of friends is well-developed; we feel like we’re the “new guys”, walking in on years of working and living together in this virtual paradise. That said, we’re brought up-to-speed very quickly—but not jarringly—so we can just enjoy the spectacle.
The main baddie of Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Animal Kingdom), is as intimidating as he is, unfortunately, cookie-cutter. In that, though, I recall old-school villains like Charles Weyland and Lex Luthor and Nicholson’s Joker—power-hungry corporate types that go against our deepest, human desire to be free from “The Man”, man. I enjoyed his performance, as his virtual strength matched his real-world, controlling nature. T.J. Miller (The Emoji Movie, Deadpool) as I-ROK seems sidelined; so imposing, when introduced, then relegated to, basically, Sorrento’s pet. Maybe he’ll get more attention in the sequel; Miller’s just that right amount of daft to be unhinged and dangerous, like Tim Curry or Bill Skarsgård’s renditions of Pennywise.
The animation (which has to be some kind of advanced motion-capture performance) is phenomenal, and the characters are not at all off-putting. Something called the uncanny valley has been the fear of gamers in the industry for a long time, as things get more and more advanced and games get more “realistic”. Not taking away from the “real-world” characters, but I actually loved their virtual avatars a tad more—for their visual distinctions, and the personalities that come through in the avatars. The CGI technology is cutting-edge, allowing for vast and fluid action set-pieces, and us to lose a grip on the “real-world”, Matrix-style. Kudos to the long list of animators and special effects workers who put in long, tiresome hours to make this film such a beautiful cinematic experience.
I. Loved. This film. Cover-to-cover nostalgia and references galore, I’d go as far as saying this is Spielberg’s magnum opus…for now. Until he makes the next best thing, that is.
Calling it: Ready Player One is the new Avatar. Score: 10 out of 10.