Ready Player One will please 80s pop culture fans, alienate others

Steven Spielberg’s version of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel is impressive visually but lacks exuberance

READY PLAYER ONE (Steven Spielberg). 140 minutes. Opens Friday (March 30). See listing. Rating: NNN

Ready Player One should make fans of 80s movies, music and video games geek out, but it – and the convoluted way the story’s unveiled – might alienate others.

Based on Ernest Cline’s hella fun sci-fi novel, it’s set in a dystopian 2045 where most people escape their dreary lives in the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by cyber mogul James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who, upon his death, offered up his massive fortune to whoever could find an Easter egg in the system.

The clues to the puzzle mostly involve the 80s, and our underdog hero Wade (Tye Sheridan) and his pop-culture-savvy online gaming cohorts try to solve it before the big, bad corporation, aided by a team of well-paid drones under head honcho Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), gets to it.

The challenges, especially the second one, are lots of fun. Cline and Zak Penn’s much-changed adaptation contains visual jokes, both one-offs and set pieces, which shouldn’t be spoiled. (I’d even suggest not reading the cast list on IMDB to avoid other reveals.)

As in the novel, though, details about the real world are rather vague, and what little we’re given comes through in awkward exposition.

Steven Spielberg directs, as he did his last picture, The Post, like a hack for hire, going through the motions but without any exuberance or excitement. He’s referenced multiple times in the book but he keeps his own oeuvre out of it, although a couple of films he produced receive nods.

The virtual world is impressively realized but monotonous and shallow – which is part of the point. It’s only at the halfway mark, when Wade’s virtual and real worlds collide, that the stakes get raised enough for us to care about anything.

Of the actors, only Olivia Cooke manages to make her role as Wade’s accomplice/potential love interest – both IRL and online – into something fresh and nuanced, although T.J. Miller gives his virtual world character I-R0k a great deadpan delivery. Mendelsohn comes off the worst as a forgettable, unintimidating corporate suit.

If anything, this should boost attendance at Scotiabank Theatre’s VR games. I’m sure the Ready Player One module is in the works.


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