Nostalgia has never had such a big playground.
There’s a question as to whether we need a film that is in so many ways derivative of readily available pop culture stalwarts, but then how many would deny the opportunity to revisit these treats from the man who is arguably their biggest champion?
There is no one alive better placed to adapt the 2011 novel Ready Player One than Steven Spielberg, reimagining here the icons of his own triumphs and those of his friends George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick and many, many others. Wreck-It Ralph and The Lego Batman Movie are among numerous cinematic attempts to lovingly fuse some of our fondest pop culture memories that we never thought we’d see together on the big screen. By comparison, Spielberg’s enviable arsenal and license to deploy umpteenth treasures (which will take many re-watches to catalogue) justly overwhelms and delights.
Set in the semi-dystopian Columbus, Ohio of 2045, Wade (Tye Sheridan), a lifelong acolyte of the Oasis, a virtual, boundless reality where just about everyone spends their time, is on the hunt to unlock an Easter egg left by the game’s creator Halliday. Played by an always superb Mark Rylance, who in a single breath can render an expression as irrevocably whimsical as it is melancholic, the long deceased visionary has promised the successful treasure hunter control of the Oasis.
Ready Player One is first and foremost an eyewatering feast. Spielberg, a master of visual storytelling, manages to propel the film forward at its earliest stages with a staggering sense of awe, even if as things progress the full measure of what is at stake remains ill-explained nor entirely apparent. We’re just asked to accept, in the long-held traditions of 80’s one-dimensional villains, that soulless corporate hack Nolan (Ben Mendelsohn) would pretty much destroy life as we know it, rather than, you know, maintaining and continuing to profit from a machine of which he now has full control.
Pursuing Wade, Mendelsohn manages to pull off one-liners (that would be assuredly lacklustre in the hands of a less capable performer) in a manner as corny as it is sharply menacing. Rounding out the two memorable performances in the film, Ready Player One is notable for splitting it’s time unevenly though shrewdly between the Oasis and Columbus. Spielberg, recognising that the sequences spent inside the Oasis and with the Avatars are far and above the best in the film, still gives it enough grounding by revisiting the real world only when dramatic expediency really does call for it. James Cameron, take note.
Too showing just how films can and should smash giant action figures together in a manner altogether more enthralling than the likes of Pacific Rim, the fight and chase sequences are spectacular and a credit to Spielberg’s persistent and ever-distinct talent. The encounters with a Brad Bird creation are among the film’s most enjoyable, at a later stage offering one of the most endearing tips of the hat to a feature, one of many, that Ready Player One would not exist without.
Mining nostalgia and your favourite fixtures for all they’re worth, one final hurdle encountered is a notably clever resolution to affairs, simply and elegantly imparting a fundamental ethos of gaming and the various gauntlets thrown down throughout.
The quality of the dialogue, as with the grounding of the other challenges, varies throughout and is occasionally terrible. The screenplay also errs by neglecting to convincingly explain how more than one character arrives at any one place, sets of conclusions or just the write piece of the puzzle at the right time. This is however of little consequence in a film ultimately set on accomplishing its high-end, astounding collage of quintessential popcorn classics.
A visual panoply reminiscent of Spielberg’s most consummate filmmaking, Ready Player One is unmissable for fans of the high-achiever and those who wish the 80’s never ended.
Read Player One is in cinemas from March 29