Visually Stunning But Lacking Compelling Characters
There’s no denying that Ready Player One is one of the best looking films released this year. Armed with an explosion of colour, CGI and incredibly shot action, Steven Spielberg’s epic makes for a wonderfully enthralling watch. Under its nostalgic heavy shell though is a formulaic, by the numbers story lacking compelling characters with an awkwardly contrived message about the dangers of technology and embracing reality. This is hammered home so forcefully at times that it sucks the life out of some of the scenes, especially during the film’s third act. Its easy to look beyond the simplistic story as Ready Player One relentlessly throws up bursts of pop culture nostalgia to drive the narrative forward through its 2 hour run time. That’s not to say Ready Player One isn’t enjoyable, quite the opposite, the film is incredibly good fun and the well shot action and impressive visuals are enough to recommend this one but those looking for a film with a compelling story or memorable characters may be left wanting.
The story opens in the not-too-distant future wasteland of 2045. Wade (Tye Sheridan) along with most of the population have embraced a revolutionary new VR technology called OASIS that transports you to a virtual universe where all your dreams can be realized through your chosen virtual avatar. When the creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, he leaves an easter egg for every player in the game to find. Tasked with finding 3 keys that hold the solution to unlocking Halliday’s fortune, Wade’s virtual persona Parzival joins forces with a handful of other in-game friends including Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) to find the 3 keys. Of course, things are never that simple and standing in their way is the corporation IoI who, armed with an army of workers at their disposal, are hell bent on finding the 3 keys before anyone else.
With the sheer amount of nostalgic references, it would be easy to get carried away and look at this film through tinted glasses, admiring the incredible visuals and nods to 90s pop culture. Under the surface though, there’s a real lack of characterisation for almost every character, with most of the supporting cast given a few lines and an archetypal persona but never given the time to really grow into their role. That’s before mentioning the acting which ranges from average to outright terrible during some of the real world scenes. If you go into this one expecting a by-the-numbers action flick light on characterisation but heavy on action and CGI, you’re sure to have a blast but as the years tick by and the references that prop up most of the film’s structure lose relevance, Ready Player One is likely to lose a lot of its initial charm.
In true Spielberg fashion the musical score accompanying the excellent visuals is sublime and impressively constructed. The big, orchestral score accentuates the action through every scene and some of the cinematography is equally as polished. Juxtaposing this is the film’s overall message around technology, addiction and embracing the real world which is really clumsily implemented to say the least. This is especially prevalent during the film’s final third that manages to bring up how damaging the virtual world is so many times that it takes some of the shine off the trademark Spielberg wonder in its feel-good ending.
Having said all that, Ready Player One is one of those films that’s likely to resonate with a lot of people through the sheer use of nostalgic references. That, combined with some very impressive visuals, make Spielberg’s epic action flick a blast to watch and as a simple popcorn-munching action it can do no wrong. Unfortunately, under its nostalgic surface is a film sorely lacking in decent characterisation and an awkwardly contrived message around technology and embracing the real world. Whether Ready Player One is likely to be remembered in the same way as other classics 20-30 years time like other Spielberg’s classics is anyone’s guess but given the lack of compelling characters and the formulaic story, I wouldn’t bet your life on it.