Steven Spielberg: we’re not angry, we’re just disappointed. And also quite angry, to be honest.
The man himself could be blindfolded and still direct one of the best films of any given year, but in Ready Player One he’s allied himself with some toxic, banal, and contradictory material from Ernest Cline that corrupts an otherwise decent action film to its core.
Spielberg uses the freedom of a virtual world to defy gravity, flinging his camera into impossible angles. He’s as brilliant as ever at creating joyous spectacle and showing sheer wonder at what our minds can build.
But Ready Player One really is little more than a patchwork of references without meaning. It throws pop-culture at the wall until something sticks, covering up any individuality in favour of borrowed characters and borrowed ideas. References themselves aren’t the problem; it’s when they’re simply hijacked for symbolic meaning and brand loyalty. The film’s best sequence, a terrifyingly authentic trip into The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, proves this by actually using its references to build a new mini-narrative.
Ready Player One spends 99% of its runtime mythologising and revelling in the glory of this virtual world, then at the death mumbles, “and maybe go outside once in a while, kids”, with only the glorious Mark Rylance sticking to that line throughout. It’s a baffling conflict of contradictory messages. The clearest moral the film offers is: loot crates are bad; obsessively gate-keeping pop-culture knowledge is good.
If you’re willing to enjoy Ready Player One superficially you’ll have a good time. If you spend longer than five minutes thinking about it you’ll consider it a crime against cinema, dragging blockbuster filmmaking back towards its cookie-cutter doldrums. You know how the worst part of every blockbuster is the endless exposition and meaningless world-building? Here’s a whole film of that.
CAST: Mark Rylance, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
WRITERS: Zak Penn (screenplay by) and Ernest Cline (screenplay by and based on the novel by)
SYNOPSIS: When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.