Coming off of the Best Picture-nominated film The Post, Steven Spielberg makes the jump back to blockbusters with Ready Player One, continuing his “one for me, one for them” model of balancing historical dramas and blockbusters and Ready Player One surely feels like it was made for audiences with its stunning visuals and crowd pleasing action sequences. Yet, Spielberg's flair for substance over style that was present in his earlier blockbusters like Jurassic Park and E.T. is lost here. While Ready Player One is an entertaining thrill ride, its storytelling still feels rather empty.
Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is set in 2045. The world is in ruins and people seek refuge in the OASIS, a virtual reality universe created by the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance) where imagination is limitless and people can become whoever they want and do whatever they choose. When Halliday passed away, he created a contest to find a coveted easter egg hidden within the OASIS and whoever gets the egg first will inherit Halliday’s fortune. One citizen who goes on the hunt for this egg is teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). In a race against time, Watts and his comrades not only try to find the egg but fight for the fate of the OASIS as well as they combat a sinister video game manufacturer known as Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
When we step into the OASIS along with our main character, it is a literal feast for the eyes of the imagination. The OASIS is a colorful world that is also full of iconic characters that we all know of and even references to film classics and prestigious filmmakers. Admittedly, the film does go overboard with its nostalgia to the point where a particular horror classic becomes integral to the storyline at one point. Anyone who’s a sucker for nostalgia like myself will probably get a slight kick out of the whole experience. But for those who either don’t get the many references that take place and/or aren’t into the works of art that do become referenced, watching this film may be a frustrating experience.
Also, as wondrous as the OASIS looks, we don’t get much insight into the sociopolitical themes surrounding it. It’s evident that people choose to escape to the OASIS to move away from their harsh realities and become absorbed by technology and media in the process. In fact, even though the film takes place in the future, it’s not too far away from where are culture is now and I wish that we got more scenes in the real world to show how detached people are from the world around them so that the film could get its point across. To think, this film is made by a man that not only was a game changer for the blockbuster genre but would make blockbusters that had a strong voice. Jurassic Park was a cautionary tale about the dangers toying with science while E.T. is about the theme of growing up. Even if Jaws didn’t have any political themes or whatnot, that film at least had a strong emphasis on character development which brings me to my next problem.
Because most of our characters are heard through their OASIS avatars and not always seen, we don’t get much personality or development from them. The only character who we see most of and who’s given the most personality is Nolan played by Ben Mendelsohn. Despite the character being a cookie cutter, villainous businessman, Mendelsohn still makes him watchable through his traditional charisma and his performance is proof that he can elevate any film that he appears in.
In conclusion, Ready Player One is exactly like a journey into the OASIS. It’s a fun, innovative way to escape the harshness of the real world without much substance and trying to find relevant themes that the film struggles to showcase proves to be as difficult as finding a hidden easter egg.