Article by: Anthony Florez
I really enjoyed Ready Player One.
As far as critical analysis, that’s not exactly the kind of concise deconstruction I go for, but it’s difficult to avoid over-complicating a thing that isn’t very complicated. The fact that I liked it came as a kind of surprise, however. I read the book that it is based on years ago when I received it, rather appropriately and uninvitedly, in a Loot Crate box. And much like Loot Crate, the movie itself is chock full of nostalgic tchotchke; junky toys referencing everything geek culture, from your Star Trek/Wars, Firefly, Batman, Doctor Who, to Power Rangers/Voltron, etc., that, when taken individually has little to no value, but when lumped together in a big orgiastic cornucopia of nostalgia is actually kind of a blast.
The book itself is absolutely that, an entertaining read that falls apart under scrutiny or disappears between the couch cushions. It’s a bit wish-fulfillment, a lot of idealizing, and more than a little bit derivative but, in its unabashed enthusiasm and self-awareness, is successful in being what it sets out to be: fun. The film version, directed by Steven Spielberg with a script from author Ernest Cline and the wretched Zak Penn, amplifies that experience the way Guy Fieri amplifies an appetizer menu… in the sense that it’s easy to make fun of the movie equivalent of Trash Can Brisket Nachos, but we’re all much better off just going for the ride.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that this film adaptation would be superior to the book; this is largely a visual story and it’s a little bit underwhelming to read about someone playing an 8-bit Atari video game. The representation of the Oasis itself, the virtual online Universe that is the setting for most of the movie, is as visually sumptuous and vivid as one could hope for, and so overly saturated with pop culture characters and references that it’s going to keep the Achievement Hunters busy for days, possibly weeks, to track them all down. This is the aspect of the book that I was convinced would overwhelm the basic quest narrative — the need to rely entirely on these references and nostalgia to keep the audience amused. But this is Spielberg. The man is nothing if not good at young adult characters stumbling through an adventure, and it’s the charming cast that persists as the focus. In fact a lot of it, particularly the finale, kept reminding me of The Goonies (directed by Richard Donner, though produced by Spielberg) with its themes of adults trying to steal everything magic and fun from the world and the kids doing their best to stop them.
What was a legitimate surprise is the tightening and pacing of the story itself, with first time scripter in Cline and Zak Penn, whose collaborations with Simon Kinberg succeeded in middling the comic book universe with gems like Elektra, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and his original script for The Avengers that Joss Whedon promptly chucked out a window. But where his dialogue is usually monosyllabic and overly simplistic, in Ready Player One, it’s perfectly fine and I chuckled more than a few times. The big improvements are in the challenges themselves; the book had a real Slumdog Millionaire feel to it where it just so happens that Wade was an EXPERT at that particularly specific game. This lost some relatability and sense of suspense, but in the movie there is a lot more emphasis on the teamwork aspect of the hunt and what can be called detective work. One sequence in particular was absolutely jaw-dropping, and not because of spectacle or volume or choreography or any of the usual reasons that descriptor is used. It had me floored because of its fidelity, because of an accuracy to a thing that I will not spoil and because it was, as a film lover, the one thing that would have sold me on the Oasis immediately. I want to see it in the real world some day.
Ready Player One has a lot of joy in it, which is special in a movie with this much CGI. It was written by a guy who has a lot of love for pop culture and directed by the guy who created a big chunk of it. This is a weird, meta-creation, it’s kind of a dream-come-true wish fulfillment story that would be a little corny if it hadn’t actually happened for Ernest Cline. So, yes, it is a little corny — but it’s got heart, it looks amazing, and it’s a whole lot of fun. If that doesn’t do anything for you, that’s okay, but maybe save your hate for the films that really deserve it. Like… The Emoji Movie.
MG Score: 7.5/10