Comic Book Brain

Review: Ready Player One 2018

FAST REVIEW: Ready Player One

VR Gamers band together to defeat a nefarious corporate chief who is competing with everyone else in a quest to find the ultimate game Easter egg: control of the game itself, called "Oasis" where it appears most of the online world spends their life. Spielberg's movies are usually technically flawless and that's the case here, more or less, with the movie intended as light-hearted fare in general, loaded with visual gags and references to pop culture. The depth of the film (or lack thereof) is tied up in its epilogue on gaming itself: remember to go get a decent meal every now and then. It's not much of an insight but you can't deny that it is a truism.

LONG REVIEW: Ready Player One

A better Ready Player One comes into focus a few times in this otherwise light-weight, well-produced action film telling the story of a band of good guys (youthful gamers) up against a cheating corporate gaming overlord (played by Ben Mendelsohn).

A dirty, falling apart civilization is portrayed as enthralled with a near religious devotion to playing "Oasis," a fantasy and adventure game that allows people to enjoy a much more successful life in a virtual environment where failure only equals respawning.

it's not all fun and games in this virtual world, though. Around the edges director Spielberg shows us a few adults playing the game by choice (versus the armies of adults playing the game as part of their employment) and these people are shown as immature and worthy of Hollywoodian ridicule, in contrast to the young people who project Hollywoodian innocence. This seems to indicate that Spielberg's inner-Kubrick is alive and well (unless the source novel contains this attitude: I've not read the book so I don't know). When one of the villain online players begins to die by spewing all of his virtual reality treasure onto the screen, he laments in panic, "I've got ten years of shit in here," and we can hear it as a line that works on more than one level.

But such multi-layering is only a part-time affair in this movie and most of the screen time is used for moving the quest plot-line forward, and the cramming in of so many pop culture references in Ready Player One that the tactic may make it somewhat indecipherable for an audience just a few decades into the future. The theatre audience I saw the film with loved the Chucky references, The Shining mini-film, and all the other momentary gestures to other novelty characters and gaming lore of the past.

When star Olivia Cooke (as Art3mis) is shown in a cell with a VR helmet on her head that she can't remove, for a brief moment the whole terror of video game addiction comes into view powerfully and Spielberg has a chance to plumb deeper depths. The moment passes, though, and instead we get an easy gaming-style solution to the problem, which is the old-but-new mythology promulgated throughout the story, plucky heroes with Sherlock Holmsian detective skills conquering each obstacle like Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Spielberg's purpose in Ready Player One is for everyone to have fun, which is a good enough reason to keep this film and a hundred others, along with Hollywood itself, solvent. But it's too bad Spielberg didn't work the frayed edges of gaming and its underside a bit more, an area that, like alcoholism or gambling,* deserves a skilled approach to split the difference between fun and calamity.

*or even comic-book collecting

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Original Page April 2018 | Updated May 2018