From Ernest Cline’s pop-culture nerd bible comes the film adaption, co-written by Cline and directed by Steven Spielberg. King of the box office. So, great source material, the original author on board and a big name director? Shall we give this the five stars now? Well, actually, and sadly, we can’t.
Don’t be fooled by this opening statement though, there are plenty of good things within Ready Player One. However, you cannot overlook some of the issues the film has. So let’s start with the characters…
The main characters suffered from a lack of character development and you are left feeling a little unsatisfied with many of them by the time the credits hit. Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) suffered greatly from this. For example, her dynamic and relationship journey with Parzival (Tye Sheridan) was incredibly rushed and is forced upon you without the feeling that you earn the moments along the way. Aech (Lena Waithe) was also a character that you just feel they could have spent a little more time fleshing out.
Despite there being some character issues that hindered the film, Tye Sheridan did a great job with the material, despite having the worst one-line of dialogue in cinema history. As good as Sheridan was though, the standout performer here is Mark Rylance as James Halliday. His take on the character was interesting, and as the film progressed he was probably the only character who was really developed to a satisfying conclusion.
Flipping to the villains Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), he was actually rather enjoyable. They mixed up the character a lot more than in the book, where he is a straight-up bad-guy, here there was an awkwardness to Sorrento, and almost humour at times. It was an unexpected approach but overall it worked. i-R0k (T.J. Miller) was not so great. His initial menace was replaced quickly by misfiring humour, leaving you with a total goof of a character that felt more in line with Bulk and Skull from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
So what about the pop-culture references? For the most part, it did the trick. “Oh hey look its X, Y and Z”. It triggers you to react that way. And while that is pretty much the same tactic that Cline used for the book, it was just executed in a better way than it was on the big screen. The book had themes, so the references felt relevant. Here it just felt too sporadic. They tried to make this for everyone, and some will like that, others won’t, and they would have probably been better suited to refining them down a little more.
The pop-culture references also played a part in what was our biggest criticism of Ready Player One. This was a 12a that sometimes went to the very limits of that classification, but would then immediately switch tone to a U. For example, one player avatar is taken from an 80s horror film about a certain doll, the character dispatches enemies in the most brutal way imaginable. Seconds later you have a lame gag between two characters that a 4-year-old would find hilarious. The tonal shifts felt very clunky and it was almost like the people shepherding this project were a little unsure what to do with it all. Crazy given the story was co-written by the guy who wrote the book and Mr blockbuster himself, Steven Spielberg.
(With the above being said, the middle action sequence was incredible and YES stood out massively from the rest of the film. What can we say? We are hypocrites.)
To say there are no limitations to the OASIS, we don’t really travel to many different places. For a world of ‘pure imagination’, Ready Player One limits itself to a handful of locations, leaving the world feeling small and restrictive. For a film containing some amazing big-screen spectacles, it didn’t feel BIG enough at times. And that was a disappointment. This needed to be a landmark, genre-defining movie. And while it teased to reach those heights, it never fully made it across the finish line. The focus was on the action and visuals, leaving behind the adventure element that made the book so enjoyable. An attempt to blend these things better would have lead to a more satisfying film.
Ready Player One is going to have his critics, it will also have people who love it. It is going to divide people, rather than unite. But sometimes these things can not be helped.
Overall, Ready Player One is an enjoyable action romp with some great highs and a spattering of lows. It was always going to be a hard task to convert the story from page to screen when they wanted to make so many changes. It lacked the real-world threats and dangers that made the book so compelling and opted for a more family-friendly approach. Better fleshed out characters and dare we say it, a director more willing to take a risk (these days) would have resulted in a better outcome. Despite the issues, we highly recommend you see this film.