Steven Spielberg (director)
30 March 2018 (released)
30 March 2018
Ready Player One is Steven Spielberg’s best Spielberg picture in years.
The magic is back, along with a pacy cinematic verve, his signature story trope of a boy made good from a broken home, and a sense of classic adventure from an old master.
A love letter to video games and 80s movie culture, Ready Player One is bursting at the seams with references to 80s blockbusters and arcades from the dayglo decade. So chocka it is, in fact, with Deloreans, nods to ET, toy Millennium Falcons and a ghostly Back to the Future soundtrack riff, you’ll need to watch it three times to capture every last in-joke.
But it isn’t the tragic nostalgia fest that may sound. Adapted loosely from the science fiction novel by Ernest Klein, the script brings us straight to Van Halen’s Jump as we glide over the stacks - shanty towns of immobile homes stacked on top of each other, where our young hero Wade (Tye Sheridan) dreams big and lives with his aunt and terrible boyfriend – specialist territory for Spielberg.
In this dystopian near future, the disadvantaged have found themselves near destitute due to something about “riots” and “corn syrup droughts”. These two catastrophes have driven most of the population to spend their days and nights in the ‘oasis’ – a virtual reality world that allows you to be who you want, fight who you want, dance like Travolta and smash shit up.
Wade, who adopts the avatar Parzival in the oasis, is an expert player both in the oasis and of its creator – Halliday (Mark Rylance). This knowledge is pretty handy, as Halliday has set everyone in his manufactured world a game of three challenges, and the winner inherits the majority shares in the company that owns the oasis itself.
It’s on this challenge that the plot pivots – and no time is wasted. The first act fires into a breathtaking action sequence, a car chase that pulverises the senses; it's Spielberg unshackled.
The story then races along at almost breakneck speed, flagging only at the start of the third act as it accelerates too fast for its own coherence, stretching itself too thin as it rushes to a too-familiar, final CGI battle.
As the plot never loosens up on the gas, Olivia Cooke, as Wade’s friend and co-player Samantha, along with Ben Mendelsohn’s villainous Sorrento, battling them both to win Halliday’s prize, hold the screen with a touch more presence than Sheridan.
As for the director, this may not hit the heights of the films it cherises and references, but the magic is back.
That, for now, is quite enough.