Virtually brilliant with Easter Eggs a plenty.
Of all the Spielberg films of recent years – and possibly with the exception of “The BFG” – this was the film whose trailer disconcerted me the most. It really looked dire: CGI over heart; gimmicks over substance. I was right about ‘The BFG”, one of my least favourite Spielberg flicks. I was definitely wrong about “Ready Player One”: it’s a blast.
The film is fun in continually throwing surprises at you, including those actors not included in the trailer and only on small print on the poster. So I won’t spoil that here for you (you can of course look them up on imdb if you want to: but I suggest you try to see this one ‘cold’).
It’s 2044, and the majority of the population have taken the next logical step of video gaming and virtual reality and retreated into their own headsets, living out their lives primarily as avatars within the fanciful landscapes of “The Oasis”. You can “be” anyone and (subject to gaining the necessary credits) “do” anything there.
The Oasis was the brainchild of a (Steve Wozniak-like) genius called James Halliday (played in enormous style by “Actor R”) and supported by his (Steve Jobs-like) business partner Ogden Morrow (“Actor P”). The two had a big falling out leaving Halliday in total control of the Oasis. But he died, and his dying “game” was to devise a devious competition that left a trail of three virtual keys in the Oasis leading to an ‘easter egg’: which if found would provide the finder with total ownership of the Oasis and the trillions of dollars that it is worth.
But the game is not only played by amateur “gunters” (egg-hunters) like our hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, “X-Men: Apocalypse“) and his in-Oasis flirting partner Samantha (Olivia Cooke, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”); there are big corporate game-hunters involved like IoI (that’s eye-oh-eye, not one-oh-one as I assumed from the trailer) who fill warehouses with combinations of nerd-consultants and professional game players to try to find the keys before anyone else. Which hardly seems fair does it? Ruthless boss Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, “Rogue One“) and his tough-as-nails hench-woman F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen, “Tomb Raider“) really couldn’t give a toss!
What follows is two-hours of high-octane game-play and eye-popping 3D (it is good in 3D by the way) that melds a baseline of “Avatar” with soupçons of “Tron”, “Minority Report” and Dan Brown novels. But its a blend that works.
I was afraid as I said that CGI would squash flat any hope of character development and story, and – yes – to be sure this is ‘suppressed’ a bit. You never get to really know many of the ‘pack’ members to any great level other than Wade and Samantha. And exactly what drives the corporate protagonists, other than “corporate greed”, is not particularly clear. What gives the film heart though are the performances of “Actor P” and (particularly) “Actor R”, who again steals every scene he is in. For their limited screen time together, the pair bounce off each other in a delightful way.
I have to make a confession at this point that I spent the whole film thinking “Miles Teller is way too old for the part of Wade”! Tye Sheridan (who I think *does* bear a likeness!) is actually much more age appropriate, and is fine in the role. But the star performance for me, out of the youngsters at least, was Oldham’s-own Olivia Cooke, who has a genuinely magnetic screen presence. She is most definitely a name to watch for the future.
Lena Waithe (“Master of None”) plays Wade’s inventor friend Helen.
The story, although simple and quite one-dimensional, in the main intrigues: there is nothing like a Mario-style chase for keys to entertain when it is done well (I am so old and crusty that in my day it was “Manic Miner” on a ZX-Spectrum!).
And there’s not just one “Easter Egg” in this film: the film is rammed to the rafters with throwbacks to classic pop-culture icons of past decades, and particularly the 80’s…. the film could have been subtitled “I ❤ 80’s”. Some of these are subliminal (Mayor Goldie Wilson anyone?), and others are more prominent but very clever: “The Zemekis cube” and “The Holy Hand Grenade” being prime examples. This is a film that deserves buying on Blu-ray and then slo-mo-ing through! The nostalgia extends to the music by Alan Silvestri, with occasional motifs from his most famous soundtrack!
For me though, the highspot of the film is a journey into a recreation of a classic ’80’s film which – while a scary sequence, earning for sure its 12A UK rating – is done with verve and chutzpah.
Although a little overlong (2 hours 20 mins) and getting rather over-blown and LOTR-esque in the finale, the ending is very satisfying – roll on Tuesdays and Thursdays!
Spielberg’s recent films have been largely solid and well-constructed watches (“The Post” and “Bridge of Spies” for example) but they have been more niche than mainstream box office draws. I firmly predict that “Ready Player One” will change that: here Spielberg has a sure-fire hit on his hands and word of mouth (rather than the ho-hum trailer) should assure that.
Fad Rating: FFFFf.