Written by: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
In the current state of the studio system, directors wanting to make smaller and more intimate dramas have found difficulty in getting them financed for many reasons outside the scope of this review. Those who have made their names in creating blockbusters, however, can create a handshake agreement where if they make a cash-grab film for the studio and it leads to success, the director will then get the real film they want to make financed. It thus becomes a fun game to see where this has happened within the filmographies of esteemed directors with Ready Player One being the most obvious and abhorrent example when it comes to Steven Spielberg.
With the real world being a wasteland filled with poverty and a lack of resources, many of the youth find themselves spending the majority of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality multiplayer video game where they can reinvent themselves. After the last remaining co-founder of the game dies, he leaves a message stating that he left a final Easter Egg, and whoever finds it will inherit control of the game and half of a trillion dollars. This emboldens everyone in the game to attempt anything and everything to win the prize with varying motivations.
The foundation of Ready Player One certainly has something that in theory would play into my sensibilities seeing my affection for the science-fiction genre. It combines elements of other much superior stories and brings in more contemporary sensibilities to it, which ultimately proves to be a terrible detriment. However, the worst thing this feature fails in accomplishing comes from it being at odds with itself and railing against the very thing it wants to celebrate by its very existence, which proves everything in its structure to be horrifically hollow and ultimately aggravating.
On a moral level, this film wants to rail against the terrors of corporations, capitalism, and the heavy use of advertisements that will ruin something pure as the OASIS. It thus pairs the very poor Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) versus the evil capitalist corporation Innovative Online Industries as everything bad with this world. It then becomes laughable this film makes these grandiose statements while ultimately serving as a big commercial for all of these commercialized pieces of art put in place simply to have audiences members point and yell at the screen because they see the Iron Giant and Wade’s avatar driving the Delorean from Back to the Future. The film serves as its own antithesis all in the name to make some money and something so devoid of any substance and empty in its soul serves as a true disservice to what this film could have been.
This ultimately serves as a black mark in Steven Spielberg’s career seeing as the man has always prided himself in making films filled with emotion and spectacle as well. I do not have to sit here and tell you all of the incredible films he has crafted and how he leaves an indelible mark in the world of filmmaking and pop culture as a whole. In a way it makes sense he would be approached to direct this feature, but not one he really should not have taken. Especially when you look at the trajectory of his career and the type of films he has directed in the 2010s. This one stands out like an ugly duckling and unsurprisingly it lacks the soul that has become his trademark among everything else.
Much can be objected to in the feature as mentioned before but the film also fails in looking visually engaging as a whole. Truly not something that can typically be said in a film crafted by Steven Spielberg. Everything in the OASIS looks astoundingly ugly with the color composition making this gray and unappealing world have no pop. It makes what’s meant to be an escape something not pleasing to look at, which allows all of its gaping flaws on a narrative level to stand out even more.
While it can be argued every film operates as a cash grab to make money, not many more so cynically lack a soul like Ready Player One. A story so devoid of any real message without tripping over itself as it represents the very thing it deems to be a villain. Hard to believe after editing this movie together no one sat and said “Hey, are we being hypocritical here?” If anyone did they probably were told to quiet down because the check has already cleared to license all of these characters for the big empty commercial of a film crafted here.