Keeping the spirit of the nostalgia porn novel it’s based on, if not the specific plot, Ready Player One simplifies and adjusts a lot of the source material. In doing so, it’s alleviated some issues (the deus ex Morrow of the book was the weakest aspect that is thankfully excised here, also WAY less Rush), but it’s created a slew more. While it’s s visual feast, the entire film is a series of easter eggs whose major theme is the celebration of easter eggs, it excises too much of what made the book great (an almost singular focus on 80s nostalgia) and replaced it with dumber methods of getting the plot from point A to point B.
Tye Sheridan is Parzival, at least in the world of the Oasis, a VR simulation created by the awkward inventor James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Upon his death, Halliday created a game set entirely within the Oasis to give his entire fortune to the winner. Parzival, beleaguered student Wade Watts by day, takes an early lead and comes under threat from corporate wannabe winners the Sixers, lead by sniveling, business-suited bad guy Sorrento, played by go-to sniveling bad guy Ben Mendelsohn. Parzival teams up with a clan of heroes in order to win the game.
Right from the start, it’s clear it’s in a different space than the book. Toto, we’re not in Oklahoma City any more. While it beefs up Art3mis’ agency and story, probably on the strength of doe-eyed Cooke’s presence, and keeps Parzival from being the sole white knight of the story, some of the best moments from the book (Parzival and Art3mis’s first meeting, Sorrento’s threat to Wade) are cheapened. Some segments make up for it. The section taking place in the realm of The Shining both feels right and connects spiritually to the source material. More should’ve been like that. Instead, the clues in the game got weaker, the threat more simplified, and the entire story truncated.
In many ways, Spielberg is the perfect director for this. His 80s oeuvre was a major reference point throughout the novel, and he has built a long career on teen protagonists fighting for justice against evil adults. Given that more than half the film takes place in the VR world, it would be a little unfair to ding the visuals for too much reliance on the cartoonish, but really it’s the films disregard of the real world that weakens the stakes in the game. Spielberg still has crafted a visually stunning film, in a variety of milieus. The expanse of the references into the 90s and beyond (I’m looking at you, Iron Giant) actually help. If only there was enough faith in the audience to keep up with a denser plot.
Fun and entertaining, for the most past, but a little more toothless than necessary.
My Grade – C+