Ready Player One (2018)
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One has been recommended to me for years. Everyone raved about the fast pace, great action, and heavy nostalgia factor that made it a bestseller. Problem with most bestsellers is, I don’t like them for their simplistic writing, mass market flat characters, and predictable stories, and Ready Player One fell right into that literary sink hole when I finally brought myself to read it ahead of Steven Spielberg’s explosion filled adaptation. With Cline co-writing with Zak Penn (The Avengers, X2), I was expecting the general themes to be adapted into a better movie than the book, and it did, but just barely.
Based in a utopian virtual reality system called the OASIS, a pollution riddled and poverty stricken future has forgone the real world for living within their own personal fantasy lives. Wade Watts, aka Parzival to the virtual world, is a poor gunter (egg hunter) living outside Columbus, Ohio, who is questing to discover James Halliday’s easter egg to claim control of the OASIS following its creator’s death. Five years into the race, no one has gotten through the first stage, but when Wade’s endless research pays off, he begins a tremendous battle for control of the internet as they know it. Tye Sheridan (Cyclops in the newest X-Men movies) barely holds the fill-in-the-blank Wade with enough humanity for him to not be hateable like the book. Olivia Cooke, always a delight, is charming and sassy as Art3mis / Samantha, a freedom fighter of sorts on whom Wade quickly develops feelings. Lena Waithe shows up as a comrade, but her role is a bit too reactionary for her usual calm demeanor. Ben Mendelsohn, ever the villain, takes on the corporate drone aiming for domination, and his bad guy comes off more unprepared than menacing.
Critiquing a popcorn flick is always a struggle. Sure, I was entertained, but a movie that is essentially a motion-capture animated explosion sure as hell better be engaging, but the nostalgia factor–played through the movie with a damn good 80s soundtrack and a malee of character and gadget inclusion–misses its significance from the book where Cline would expand on the most mundane details of the eighties obsessed society. A Shining related challenge was sheer delight with a massive half robot-half warlord darting through the haunted hotel at a hollering gallop, and an underground vs above ground view of the first challenge is a tease for a movie that does continue with that consistent promise. There are pointless ventures, awkward crotch interactions, and mindless plot holes that make the movie almost obnoxious at times. Spielberg has such skill at doing a variety of stories, but it seems he forewent storytelling for storyshowing. With the years of development behind this feature, I expected more cohesion, but when trying to please the masses, story and structure often fall to the weigh side in lieu of plot devices to push a movie along. This is one I’d not rush to see (but a free ticket is a free ticket)