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Movie review: ‘Ready Player One’ is flawed, but tons of fun

From left, Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, Olivia Cooke as Samantha Cook, Win Morisaki as Daito and Philip Zhao as Sho in the film, “Ready Player One.” Credit: Courtesy of TNS

 

“Ready Player One” was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance and Ben Mendelsohn. The film is based on the novel by Ernest Cline of the same name and is about a virtual world called the Oasis that has become more important than life itself, and the quest that Parzival (Sheridan) goes on to find an Easter Egg that the creator of the Oasis (Rylance) left behind after his death.

Cline’s book is one of the most well-received books in the last decade, and though I haven’t read it, I’ve certainly heard a lot about it, leading to fears that the film would not capture the scope of the novel. Still, this is Spielberg after all, so I entered the theater hopeful for a fun adventure with tons of great references.

The Good

From a visual standpoint, “Ready Player One” is an absolutely breathtaking experience with some of the strongest effects in recent memory. The amount of visual references the film manages to pull off is exceptional, and Spielberg does a great job at using these references in a way that rarely feels forced.

This movie is made for fans of pop culture, since characters and moments from various classic movies and video games are scattered throughout. It’s hard not to have a huge smile on your face in these moments. Above many things, “Ready Player One” manages to be incredibly fun, and these references are a major reason why.

Rylance as Halliday simply knocked it out of the park with the incredible delivery and flair he gave to the character. Halliday was my favorite character because of his complexities, which were all brilliantly brought out by Rylance.

Sheridan and Cooke both give strong performances in the leads, and Mendelsohn once again shines at being a jerk ––  something he loves to be typecast as. T.J. Miller as I-R0k is only in the film for a brief time, but he brings a much-needed burst of comedy every time he speaks.

Even without reading the book prior to seeing the film, I thought that the movie built the world well enough simply through Parzival’s journey, which helped the film avoid being bogged down by exposition. Sure, there are pieces of this world I’d love to have heard more about, but at 140 minutes, the film flies by without dull moment, and I fear that any added backstory would have pushed its limits.

I talked about references already, but one reference in particular stood out. An entire scene referencing “The Shining” might be the best scene in a movie all year. That, along with the fight sequences, which are extremely well shot, made for the highlights in a consistently fun film.

The Bad

Cooke and Sheridan are great on their own, but their romance just does not work in this film. With so much going on, the movie feels already crunched for time. Because of that, their relationship never feels believable, leading to some very cringeworthy moments.

Again, due to time constraints, this world often left me with some unanswered questions. The major corporation within this world doesn’t always make as much sense as I hoped, and the importance of Columbus, Ohio –– the movie’s setting –– or the outside world in general, just never felt like it came together.

As fun as “Ready Player One” is, the lack of stakes often hurt the ability for the movie to be exceptional. The family aspect of Parzival’s life just feels weak in comparison to anything that happens in the Oasis, and the amount of coincidental moments made all the tension leave the room. Spielberg does go back to some classic storytelling, but that doesn’t excuse the occasional laziness of the plot.

Conclusion

“Ready Player One” is a blast of a time with a strong mix of references and fresh ideas, though it is far from perfect. There are moments I can look back on that bring a smile to my face, but other moments that leave me rolling my eyes. Still, Spielberg adapted Klein’s audacious novel in a way that seemed to take the highlights and expand on the fun, and the result works for the majority of the movie.

3.5 stars

 

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