Steven Spielberg is arguably the biggest movie director in the world. The term “household name” gets thrown around a lot, but Spielberg is more or less the physical embodiment of that term, certainly with directors. Why? As I grow, I find myself becoming more and more unsure. Not to say that he hasn’t made SEVERAL all-time classics (Jaws is in my top ten for god’s sake), but I find myself growing weary of his more recent output. Sadly, ‘Ready Player One’ isn’t an exception.
I’ve been following ‘Ready Player One’ for a few years now, I read the book (it’s… problematic to say the least, but I enjoyed it overall) and was interested to see how a big budget studio version could play out. Having seen the trailers and posters, the internet at large immediately assumed that the film would be two and a half hours of “I GET THAT REFERENCE”. I went in with an open mind, open to whatever it had to throw at me. I got two and a half hours of “I GET THAT REFERENCE”.
Now, on a technical level, it’s all very well put together. Of course it is, it cost $175 million. The special effects are fantastic and the acting is passible. The direction has nothing about it whatsoever that makes it special. The film could’ve been directed by literally anyone as far as I could tell. The music is hardly noticeable, except for the 80s music that was clearly shoehorned in, trust me they made sure you’ll notice that. The script was… dumb.
There is no character development. In our lead roles, we have Hero, Best Friend, Girl, and Villain. That’s their character. We have Hero who is cool and awesome because he’s the hero. The funny Best Friend who serves to make the occasional wisecrack. Villain is bad because he’s… because he’s bad. There is no depth, growth or even really backstory, he’s just greedy and bad. Girl is a girl and therefore basically becomes Hero’s main goal in the film. If that sounds horrible and regressive, that’s probably because it is. Yeah, it’s basically the typical Hollywood adventure movie formula, but I still have issues with it even in that context.
There are various, VARIOUS points throughout this picture where several different characters tell Hero how creepy he’s being towards this person he’s literally never even met. I figured “Okay, so they’re gonna poke fun at how stupid this is?”. Nope. In the end, Hero gets the girl and saves the day. I would put a spoiler warning before that, but if you’re seriously surprised by the movie ending that way then I’d be honestly shocked that you’re smart enough to read. Hero doesn’t really do anything to redeem or improve himself. He essentially just wins the girl like a prize in… well, in a video game.
There is zero room for subtlety or nuance. The film makes damn sure that you get a good long while to take in every reference it throws at you. Now, there are some references that aren’t on screen for very long, although they’re all followed by a character going “Wow, it’s [REFERENCE] from [SOURCE MATERIAL]!”. If you think that what amounts to someone showing you a picture of the Holy Hand Grenade or the DeLorean from Back to the Future counts as smart writing, then perhaps you’ll find something in here that I didn’t.
Why don’t we talk about Villain for a bit? The most backstory we get for Villain is a video clip of him suggesting that they implement tier-based subscription features into the game where the majority of the movie is set. This evidently doesn’t happen and I guess that’s enough backstory. There isn’t even some lazy “my father was a jerk and so I’m evil” excuse in here, he’s just bad because the movie needed a villain. It plays out like a big metaphor for net neutrality, which I guess I’ve seen worse. That’s about the best thing I can say about Villain. I’ve seen worse, but even the tiniest bit of development beyond “he’s the bad guy” would’ve been nice.
There were a few moments in particular that legitimately annoyed me and I need to talk about one way or another. I guess consider the next two paragraphs to be spoilers. If you’re still thinking about seeing this movie, I guess you should skip over them.
The first test that the characters have to pass is a seemingly impossible race inside the game. Do you want to know how Hero figures it out? He watches an old video (which, I should add, it’s explained that he has, quite literally, watched a thousand times beforehand) where the creator of the game says in relation to one of his partners leaving his company “We should just go backwards. Just reverse really fast. Put the pedal to the metal and reverse really fast”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line more shoehorned into any film. It comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit at all. Except for the fact that without it we wouldn’t have a film.
My second major annoyance has to do with the climax. It involves playing an Atari 2600 game. Nobody knows which one, so the villains decide to try them all. There’s a plot device where the in-game avatar will die after a minute of playing the incorrect game. After playing the game ‘Adventure’, the villains find that they don’t die and therefore it must be the right game. Well, after finishing ‘Adventure’, their avatar dies, so the villains write it off as being “the wrong game”. I’m guessing most people in the audience won’t know this, but *anyone* with any knowledge of classic games knows what ‘Adventure’ is famous for. Being possible the first video game to contain an Easter egg. Hero almost instantly knows that the egg is what they need to beat the final test, rather than finishing the game normally. It takes the villains a good minute after writing it off as “the wrong game” before they figure this out. I’d be okay with this, except for the fact that the villains have a room full of experts who know everything there is to know about seemingly every 2600 game. If a dummy like me knows about that egg, how the hell did none of them think to speak up?!
Overall: Pandering, poorly written, regressive, overlong. If there *is* any message that is trying to be put across by this film, it’s probably something along the lines of “don’t support greedy, soulless pieces of corporate junk”. It’s not every day you see a film that seems to explicitly tell you not to support it.
[Originally published April 2nd, 2018]