Steven Spielberg, master of 1980s pop culture, helms Ernest Cline’s rollicking sci-fi adventure tale, in which young heroes take on big corporation IOI inside the virtual universe of The Oasis, seeking three keys. These lead to the ultimate prize, an Easter egg granting ownership of late trillionaire James Halliday’s (Mark Rylance) magic kingdom in which everything’s a reference. The plot is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Halliday is Willy Wonka, and then there’s the huge array of nods to 1980s pop culture. It’s so meta it’s basically South Park’s taco, within a taco, inside a taco.
But deep inside, this taco is empty. With ample opportunity to contrast the virtual utopia with the real world of the impoverished Stacks (towering trailer parks amidst dystopian Wall-E landscapes), Spielberg cuts between realities, with little of the flair of his far superior sci-fi Minority Report. In a virtual realm where your avatar can be literally any thing you like, references to gender or race are reduced to quick gags. The greatest confusion lies in the “real is good” and “big corporations bad” morality, which seems to want to critique the use of entertainment to distract the populace from real world politics and economics, but then says forget that, let’s just have some fun!
Aside from Rylance, the entire cast (even Ben Mendelsohn) struggle with two-dimensional characters and dialogue served with a whopping side-order of cheese. But is it bad writing or sly-satire of clunky 1980s teen movie dialogue? Still, this is Spielberg, and whilst it’s over-puffed, over-stuffed and over-long, he delivers one stand-out sequence, serving up an amazing tribute to Stanley Kubrick, which also plays on how books and films are very different things indeed.
Confused tone, message and target audience (it wants to be a family movie, but has a mature rating, with a few scenes that’ll likely scare little ones, and a smattering of adult language), but the special effects CGI bonanza looks great. No drama or tension, but in terms of bold, brash, unashamed blockbusting popcorn munchers, Ready Player One entertains.
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