Ready Player One

Ready Player One ★★½

Ready Player One is bloated to a fault; Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster effort more than delivers on the snappy pop-culture references and expensive-looking visual treats. He even manages to coax some strong performances out of the cast. Unfortunately, the whole affair is simply too excessive on just about every front (particularly the running time) to really be all that engaging or impactful.

Tye Sheridan gives a passable “Everyman” performance as Wade Watts (a.k.a. Parzival), whose overcoming-the-odds plotline is wholly predictable and unsurprising. There isn’t a whole lot to Parzival, and the attempts to develop his character through a tragic backstory are both heavy-handed and ineffective. That’s okay, though, this story doesn’t really need a protagonist with a whole lot of depth, since the story doesn’t really have much either.

There are themes here, certainly; the film explores our connection to the digital world, and how we often lose touch with what really matters in the “real” world when we become too connected to our devices. It seems to comment on the hot-button topic of net neutrality as well. And, of course, there’s the whole feel-good story of teamwork, friendship, and sticking it to “the man.” Sadly, all of this is secondary to the spectacle; Spielberg gives us a superficial story with a predictable outcome and very little substance, and then attempts to ooh and ahh us with pretty visuals and as many pop culture nods as possible. It’s almost as if the writers are thinking, “If I throw enough nostaligic references out there, everyone will find some they like, be happy about that... and they won’t notice how shallow our story really is.”

On the bright side, this film is quite fun for a good portion of its runtime. Getting acquainted with the virtual world of the OASIS is exciting, and the visuals are quite stunning. Mark Rylance is wonderful (as usual) as the game’s creator, Halliday, and Olivia Cooke is much better than her counterpart as the female lead, Art3mis. Ben Mendelsohn serves as a good antagonist, and T.J. Miller provides some solid comic relief. The standout performance of the film, though, belongs to Lena Waithe, who is pitch-perfect as Parzival’s best friend and sidekick, Aech. Waithe has always impressed me, ever since I first caught her stealing scenes in Master of None, and it is great to see her getting a chance to expand her audience with a big blockbuster.

Ready Player One is a well-shot, visually-impressive film that cannot sustain its overlong running time. At 90-120 minutes, this could’ve really been something. Sadly, once the thrill of the effects and world-building wears off, there is still about an hour to go in a film that has telegraphed where it’s headed from the very beginning.

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