Ready Player One ★★★★

"Ninjas don't hug!"

There seems to have been a pre-emptive backlash to Ready Player One in the months preceding its release - most of which could be seen on Twitter - spurred on primarily by the deprecatory reaction to the source material. Ernest Cline's original novel (which I have not read) has been criticised by some as little more than fan fiction, whose appeal is tied only to the nostalgia of its readership and Cline's endless regurgitation of pop culture references... their words, not mine. This film adaptation should come as a welcome surprise to them, then, in that it's actually very good. Just like he did with Jaws and Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg has taken an imperfect but intriguing bestseller, ironed out the kinks, and served up a delightful high-concept adventure movie in the vein of Amblin Entertainment's classic offerings from the '80s.

Ready Player One is certainly reliant on heavy intertextuality - i.e. references to other pieces of media you may or may not recognise. The virtual reality setting of the Oasis allows for the utilisation of hundreds of established characters, locations and vehicles, to the extent that you suspect a huge chunk of the budget must have gone purely to licensing and rights clearances. Fortunately, most of those references aren't solely put in there to provide cheap thrills at the expense of the story: almost all of them are worked plausibly into the movie's narrative, usually in order to advance the story forward. For instance, trivia about an old video game illuminates a character's motivation, just as a favourite movie quote chimes nicely with the ambitions of our protagonists. That, and sometimes it's just fun to see the Delorean time machine plough through a battlefield while the Iron Giant fights Mechagodzilla. I mean, c'mon.

Speaking of our principals, the young cast is reasonably likeable, and led gamely by Tye Sheridan (Parzival/Wade) and Olivia Cooke (Artemis/Samantha). However, they are admittedly outshone more than once by the posthumous melancholia of Mark Rylance's Halliday, as well as Ben Mendelsohn's nefarious Sorrento. Speaking as someone who likes Mendelsohn, but was mainly lukewarm on Rogue One, it's a pleasure to see him in something that I thoroughly enjoyed. The extensive effects work is also phenomenal (because the Oasis is a virtual environment, the use of CGI never feels obtrusive or jarring), and the action sequences all prove to be highly watchable. Furthermore, there's a good balance between the augmented reality and actual reality: as extravagant as the fighting gets in the Oasis, there's a pleasing sense of tension whenever someone in the real world pulls out a simple handgun.

On the whole, I would regard Ready Player One as Spielberg's most purely entertaining movie since The Adventures of Tintin, his last foray into motion capture blockbusting. A lot of people (again, mostly from the so-called "Film Twitter") will naturally decry this as the apotheosis of empty nostalgia-wallowing, probably without even deigning to see the thing for themselves. I myself thought it was an immensely good time, and a film which simultaneously glorifies our love of pop culture while also encouraging us to temper our indulgences. After all, "reality is the only thing that's real."

Until next time, Señor Spielbergo. Here's hoping Indy 5 continues your latest winning streak.


Spielbergian Trademark Checklist:

Oners?
Diving into the Oasis for the first time.

Reflection shots?
Sorrento's face in Wade's visor.

Glowing lights?
Basically most of the time you're in the Oasis, there's some kind of light show going on. The dance club scene probably has the most instances of flashing neon.

Awestruck faces?
Wade/Parzival makes one a few times, as do the rest of the players.

Daddy issues?
Artemis' motivation, which is tied directly to her father's death.

John Williams score?
Nope, since he was busy doing The Last Jedi. Instead, Alan Silvestri is on music duties - his main theme definitely has an Amblin vibe to it.

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