Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's hit book captures all the '80s nostalgia our pop culture overlords can muster. And more.
Do you live and breath the Reagan decade in ways that would make those “Stranger Things” cast mates blush?
Have we got a movie for you.
Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” is an orgiastic nostalgia trip … set in 2045. Confused? Hang in there. The fun is worth the while, even if it’s both vapid and exhausting.
Tye Sheridan (“Mud”) stars as Wade Watts, a lad living in a quasi-dystopian Columbus, Ohio. It’s not “Mad Max” depressing, but close. The movie attempts to explain away the societal breakdown, but it’s both lazy and incomplete.
Enter The OASIS. The virtual reality zone is the opiate of these masses. The realm lets people escape into a zone where anything is possible and nothing is off limits … unless you run out of lives.
Video games are like that.
It’s intoxicating, and the eeeevil IOI corporation (run by an oil slick operated by Ben Mendelsohn) wants to rule the realm. He’ll have to solve the puzzle left by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the realm’s creator and professional geek.
You know, the personality type ’80s dwellers hassled to no end.
Wade wants The OASIS prize, too, and he’s got a gaggle of pals to help him. That includes the beguiling Samantha (the always terrific Olivia Cooke), who he falls for while exploring The OASIS.
Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestseller establishes this world so efficiently you buckle in for a new sci-fi classic. We’re instantly familiar with this Ohio city, from its dilapadated buildings to the hopeless look of its denizens.
And you don’t have to squint to see the modern-day implications. Just look at your kid neighbor who can’t be bothered to look up from his tablet. We’re addicted to technology, and it’s only going to get worse.
That backdrop gives “Ready Player One” instant gravitas, and Spielberg spends the film’s 140 minute running time chipping away at it.
That doesn’t besmirch the energy brought to every sequence. This is a video game sprung to life, but with far more grit and poetry than “Tomb Raider” and like-minded mediocrities. It’s still a whoosh of digital bits, and we start longing for the real world to intrude more often.
The OASIS teems with pop culture shout outs, from Atari 2600 games to those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Buy the eventual Blu-ray edition and spend the next month gathering all the Easter eggs. That’s fine, but the story wears thin the longer the narrative unfolds.
Wade’s friends, for example, are so thinly sketched they barely resonate. The love story starts strong but can’t sustain that emotional momentum. And those action sequences lose their luster mid-movie.
Worst of all? The film’s mature context gets sidetracked by a final wave of pure Spielberg schmaltz. That doesn’t matter, though. “Ready Player One” includes a long, nifty shout out to “The Shining!”
That’s better than a phenomenal third act.
Spielberg knows better. And, once upon a time, he delivered better, too. “Ready Player One” is never dull and often popcorn perfection. It just isn’t the neo-classic it could’ve been.
HiT or Miss: “Ready Player One” delivers the futuristic nostalgia orgy fans of the Ernest Cline book demand. Too bad Steven Spielberg is all too satisfied to stop his ambitions there.