Spielberg's incredible action makes for a fun, but flawed, sci-fi romp.
Spielberg returns to blockbuster filmmaking with a bang. Adapting Earnest Cline's 2001 mega-hit novel "Ready Player One" Spielberg is given pretty much any pop culture character in history to use in a sandbox with no rules- and he goes for it. There isn't a single time where I wasn't wowed by the utter visual splendor and composition that Spielberg brings to the film. He makes this film pop in a way that is believable, it feels more like a video game than CGI mishmash. But even with Spielberg's masterful work behind the camera, he can't escape some of the problems that come with the script.
Firstly, the film starts off with a far too long and really clunky narration that sets up everything. This all goes on before the titles and just feels so forced and derived, especially because we never go back to narration or hearing what Wade is thinking. It's a script problem that might be picky but is emblematic of a much larger problem within the story. While the world and the actions done in said world are incredible, the same can not be said for the main character. Wade Watts is about as bland as bland can be, he just spews trivia and knows a lot about the dude who created the Oasis. While these help him in the film, they aren't meaningful substitutes for actual character traits. While Tye Sheridan does his best with what he has (he's quite charming) he can't fix an underwritten/boring character. But there are three characters in the film who are expertly performed and very interesting, Olivia Cooke's Artemis, Lena Waithe's Aech, and Mark Rylance's James Halliday. They are all unique and incredibly fun to watch, I was often left wondering why either one of these characters wasn't the protagonist. There are a few other story problems, but if you are seeing "Ready Player One" you probably care more about spectacle than story and if that's the case you won't be disappointed. All three of the "quests", that the film revolves around is so unique and fun that it's hard to think about the story or weak protagonist while they are going on. Whether it's a balls to the wall race that makes "Speed Racer" look tame or a "The Shining" inspired haunted house run through, there is something fascinating and unique here that will most definitely bring a smile to even the most seasoned action/blockbuster veterans. The sequences also resonate as Spielberg imbues the film and the characters with a heart and earnestness that helps everything gel much more naturally. Potentially clunky scenes of hollow nostalgia work because I felt the characters and people in the world cared and understood what exactly they were talking about.
The biggest thing that this movie does write is that it doesn't just coast off of empty nostalgia. While it easily could have and sometimes does, for the most part, it does go completely overboard on the references and shove them down your throat. In fact, it takes a small but interesting look at the life of some who fetishizes old things and lives off nostalgia. While the film isn't cynical or condemning it does point to the fact that just watching, thinking about, and trying to relive old media isn't much of a life at all. All-in-all this is a really fun ride that deserves to be seen. [B]
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