joshhhh’s review published on Letterboxd:
It should be noted that I had considerable hesitation when going into Ready Player One. For one, the trailers presented a barrage of CGI and pop culture references that seemed to make up the general schlock most blockbusters nowadays love to cash in on. The biggest reason, however, is the book it’s based on is a relentlessly tiring effort by Ernest Cline, whose monotonous writing has never allowed me to actually make it past page 100. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt, as I do with every Spielberg film. With this said, I’m happy to report Ready Player One is a pretty impressive outing for Spielberg, coming off of a seven year withdrawal from directing blockbusters. It’s also a surprising effort, because it is painted with sentimental value and painstaking detail of our current issues. I understand people take issue with Spielberg’s overuse of sentimentality to reel in the audience, and I can understand why some may take issue to this, but there is no artistic merit lost in his attempt to make an audience sympathize and root for a hero such as Wade Watts. One of the reason he’s considered one the greatest filmmakers of all time is he’s able to take any concept and boil it down to what’s important: in this case that’s a multitude of ideas surrounding one basic principle, retrospective.
Pop culture is essentially weaponized in this film, and it’s used much in the vein of how David Lynch used Twin Peaks The Return to criticize society’s overuse of nostalgia to sell a film or tv show. Nostalgia is baked into our modern culture at this point, and that’s why Wade works here. Luckily, the tiring voiceover that resides in the first act of the film, whose sole purpose to vomit exposition, is lost in the world Wade enters and we see nostalgia as a character of its own. Wade is the central character of this film, and along with his posse (including a terrific and honest performance by Olivia Cooke) use the virtual reality simulator to essentially save the internet from being controlled (yep, that really happens and god I wish life was this easy). But the person who stole the show is easily Mark Rylance, who plays the mysterious creator of the OASIS game. Much of what we learn about him is through creatively placed flashbacks, but his performance is so surprising that it bears a watch just to see what Rylance does with the character. Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s played by a classically trained actor who sold his held-back and real acting in Spielberg’s recent film Bridge of Spies, or maybe it’s the fact that his character (despite being a pop culture obsessed fan) acts as a criticism against the very thing he loves, but James Halliday is easily the most fascinating part of this film.
There’s no denying this film will not sit well with everyone. From what I’ve seen it’s a very divisive film already (a man literally walked out of the theater saying, “Spielberg killed cinema”), but to me this film has so much value that will sadly be lost to some people. The expository dialogue has a point but is still hard to deal with at points, especially when it's very easy to infer what is happening yet voiceover still feels the need to tell us what exactly we're seeing. It’s a definite improvement over Cline’s dribble, however. Spielberg is bringing his A-game to this, which bodes well for future blockbuster projects if they're anything like this. All I'll say is this: go in with an open mind. The 140 minute runtime is a little intimidating, but not a second goes by where I wasn't entranced by the screen. It's visual bliss, pure and real cinema made by the master himself.