In general, when you think of Steven Spielberg, there are 3 types of films that come to mind: there are his adventure films (“Indiana Jones”, “Jurassic Park”), there are his history films (“Schindler’s List”, “Saving Private Ryan”) and there are his child wonderment films (“E.T.”, “Hook”). Lately, Spielberg has focused on the history films with “War Horse”, “The Post” and “Lincoln.” But he has occasionally dabbled into the realms of child wonderment with “The BFG” and now “Ready Player One”, neither of which, unfortunately, prove themselves worthy of his pedigree.
Based off the book by Ernest Cline, the film follows Wade aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan), a video gamer in the OASIS game, a virtual world seemingly more popular than reality. When creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he reveals he has left several clues behind and the user who solves his Easter Eggs will win his fortune. Wade, along with friend Aech (Lena Waithe), meets the mysterious Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and rushes to uncover the mystery before the giant corporation Innovative Online Industries (IOI), run by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), wins the race and privatizes the OASIS. Their journey takes them through digital representations of “Godzilla”, “The Iron Giant”, “The Shining” and many other franchises.
The film feels substandard on almost every level with a plot that could be programed into an algorithm. Open with voiceover. Introduce male protagonist. Introduce love story. Introduce black best friend. Open mystery. Action scene. Rise in plot. On and on. It’s all so boring as to be insulting. There is literally nothing innovative or clever about it, the climax a giant CGI mess that drowns out even the most patient viewer.
The problem here is actually Spielberg. In the hands of a different director, someone younger perhaps, fresher, more eager to prove themselves, there could have been a sleek, interesting gamer film that broke the rules rather than ran with them. Spielberg is simply not the same man that he was in the 1980s. He’s older now, with a different view of the world and a more nuanced approach to filmmaking. He’s trying to harken back to his younger self with fare like this, but it’s just not him anymore. Nostalgia is a weakness that degrades strong storytelling, and “Ready Player One” has it in spades.