Here’s what I imagine the conversation was like when they got Steven Spielberg to direct Ready Player One:
WB exec: Hey, Spielberg, we’re working on a new movie. It’s kind of like Sharkboy and Lava Girl, but edgier. Would you be interested?
Spielberg: Yeah! I can make all kinds of political statements with that! Maybe I could make it an allegory for how the digital age is destroying interpersonal relationships! Or I could talk about how fanboyism is ultimately detrimental to the world at large…or maybe-
WB exec: What were you saying? We were just digging a pit for all the money we’re gonna make off Hot Topic shirts and LootCrate merch.
Spielberg: I was saying I wanted to use this movie to tell some kind of message.
WB exec: We don’t really care what you do. Half the movie is going to be made by computers anyway. We just wanted your name because fanboys really like Jurassic Park.
Spielberg: Okay but what about-
WB exec: See you at the premiere!
Ready Player One opens to Van Halen’s jump, as our main character, Wade, presents to us the setting of our film, The Oasis, a virtual reality game in which the world’s population meets to geek out over their love of pop culture, specifically their love of the 1980’s, and what is the first land the movie decides to show us? Minecraft World…
Here we are faced with the first moment of utter confusion in a film filled with decisions that just don’t make sense. Ready Player One is one of the most baffling movies I have ever seen. It’s almost as if every aspect of it, from the direction to the script, to the acting, to the special effects belongs in a different movie. I feel genuinely bad for Spielberg because it’s clear he was trying to make a great movie. Spielberg is, as the kids say, GOAT, so of course, he does good work here. The directing is probably the only aspect of this film that I would consider to be effective. While Tintin is still miles better than this, Spielberg is still very talented at directing big-budget CGI adventures, even at the tender age of 71. But, working greatly to his detriment is the absolute mess that is Ready Player One’s screenplay. The script here was written by Zak Penn, whose previous work has included X-Men: The Last Stand and The Incredible Hulk, as well as Ernest Cline himself, the man who penned the wildly popular novel this is based off; a novel that, coincidentally, I would rather tar and feather myself than be forced to read. What this dynamic duo has turned in here is a sloppy greasefire of a story that is almost completely devoid of any character development, genuine moments, or compelling storylines. A character is killed in what should be a dramatic story beat but it is thrown aside as something that’s just supposed to happen in a plot pyramid. Not to mention is most of the exposition done in some of the laziest narration I’ve ever witnessed. But there are references! Oh god, are there references.
Ready Player One is the Black Panther for #Gamergate culture. Every scene is chocked full of as many pop culture references as they could possibly authorize and even then it won’t be enough for some people. What I found most entertaining was the fact that all of this movie’s nostalgia is for anything from 1980-1989 or 2000-2009. Nothing else is even considered. Why the inclusion of the 21st-century garbage mixed in with the holiest of holy decade, the eighties? Because there are kids seeing this too. So all the thirty-forty year men who grew up to become the kind of dads who force their sons to love Star Wars just as much as they did can now finally have a movie they can see together. Dad can get a nostalgia orgasm because the girl character dresses up like Jessica Rabbit and the kid can get excited because, I don’t know, Tracer’s in the movie. Honestly, this nostalgia fest would be somewhat tolerable if they had handled it with any amount of tact, but they don’t. Characters in this movie LITERALLY have lines like “hey remember that old commercial with the owl” and “that’s the bike from Akira,” rather than just letting the references stand for themselves. Plus, they misrepresent half the things they reference in the film. After all, the entirety of the Iron Giant movie is to set up the message about how violence is not the answer and Iron Giant is not a gun, but what is he in this movie? And don’t even get me started on the absolutely infuriating Shining sequence. But, hey, after a while it got to be amusing to see just how far they’d take it. The third act culminates with what I can only describe as a war of intellectual property that was genuinely hilarious. Sorry. I meant “IT WAS AWESOME!!!!! 10/10 BEST MOVIE EVER HE PLAYED ATARI!!!!!!!!” Oh well. I guess there’s something to be said for managing to include Spawn and Hello Kitty in one film.
I don’t really need to talk about the performances in the movie, because who cares when they had the original Batmobile from the 1966 series, but I’m going to anyway. Tye Sheridan (Mud, Tree of Life) plays our lead, Wade Watts and tries his best even though he is given some of the most cringe-inducing dialogue of the decade. Olivia Cooke, one of my favorite rising actresses (Thoroughbreds, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) is WASTED in this film. She’s treated with unbelievable disrespect (see the film’s unbelievably gross final shot) and will probably be pigeonholed into being a generation of gamers’ wet dream, but I’m sure she was well-compensated for her time. Their little friends are not great actors but who cares, they’re barely in the movie. Simon Pegg is not great in the movie, but he’s also barely in it, so who cares. But these last two, well they’re really something. Mark Rylance is Spielberg’s new muse. He cast him in Bridge of Spies, The BFG, and now as the idiosyncratic Willy Wonka to his Ready Player One. Rylance’s performance in this movie is…interesting. I genuinely can’t figure out if it’s good or bad, but it is definitely interesting. Whatever he was doing here, I couldn’t take my eyes away from it, again, not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. But, hands down, the worst performance in the movie has to be Ben Mendelsohn as the villain. Mendelsohn is cast as this kind of big business Mark Zuckerberg figure with the absolutely ridiculous name of Nolan Sorrento and appears to be conflicted at all times as to whether or not he’s supposed to be a loser or a professional so he created this combination of both that is just broken and frankly bizarre. I couldn’t take him seriously every time he was onscreen and the film definitely suffered because of it.
There is a good movie somewhere in here just begging to get out. But it’s bogged down by a corporatized mess of a movie that’s sole purpose is to sell as many Funko Pops as possible. And I know what you’re thinking, isn’t that kind of like a metanarrative to the message of the film? Shut up. I’m tired of these film students out there trying to get us to watch bad movies because you can possibly look at them through a certain lens to find some new message therewithin. Just because you can use Adobe Premier to make a video essay about how Ready Player One is an accidental allegory for the effect of exploitative militant nostalgia does not make it a movie worth watching. I mean-just-our main character is physically beaten because he calls Smelly Gabe a “noob.” This is not a good film. It’s Spy Kids 3D.
All images are from Ready Player One, a Warner Bros. film