I know I’m technically a month late to this, but I recently saw Ready Player One. This is one of the biggest nerd movies to come out this year, and it ended up getting a lot of buzz because of it. I thought I’d finally give my two cents on the movie, and what I thought of Steven Spielberg’s “newest” movie. The film revolves around this young man named Wade Watts, a guy who enters a MMORPG named “The Oasis”.
Wade plays the game in an attempt to obtain the ultimate “Easter Egg”, an extremely hard to find and obscure secret that will let the winner inherit a vast fortune. Along the way, he has to deal with the corporate goons at “IOI”, the various trials to get the special keys, and fighting his own romantic feelings for a woman he just met. Of course, the plot wasn’t the main draw of this film.
What really drew people to the movie was the egregious product-placement. By product placement, I don’t mean that they shoved a Pepsi Machine or a Taco Bell in there. I’m referring to the film’s various cameos and references, all of which are from hundreds of different franchises. This film features tons and tons of things that nerds will remember, essentially making it one massive crossover between all these properties.
Games like VRChat, and to a lesser extent Miitopia also had this gimmick going for them. Unfortunately, the nerd references kind of work against this film quite a bit. The film is packed with way too many references, to the point where the film lacks an identity. Most of the cool stuff in the movie only happens in The Oasis, while the real world stuff is always boring and tedious in this film. Worse still, most of the epic action sequences during The Oasis sequences involve the characters and things that were made by other people.
The film is the cinematic equivalent of knocking two action figures together and having them fight. The film definitely excels in bringing that kind of experience to table, but squanders it in other areas. One thing that I felt was holding the movie back was its protagonist. Wade Watts is a young man who is somehow one of the greatest players in The Oasis.
It’s never explained why he is so skilled at the game, he just kind of is. There’s no backstory behind how he came up with the character, the struggles to get this far, nothing. When the movie began, I felt like I was watching a sequel that was just barely explaining the first film. Most of the explanation goes towards the world, story, and setup. Not so much the characters and how they got to where they were.
At times, Wade feels like a character who was meant to act as an avatar for an audience, to help them get used to this crazy world. Unfortunately, Wade ends up coming off as insufferable. He’s way too overpowered at in the game, and has very few flaws. The few flaws he has are easily and quickly shoved aside, so that the movie can show us how great he is at games.
While he does struggle in certain parts of the film, he just as easily finds a way to overcome them. Both in real-life and in the game, Wade manages to skirt past dangerous and life-ending situations in some of the most nonsensical and plot convenient ways. There’s even a part where something really tragic happens to him in the movie, but he rarely brings it up aside from one or two instances. He doesn’t even really seem that sad about it, which feels like bad writing if you ask me.
The villain isn’t much better, due mostly to how he is portrayed in the film. The main adversary was a generic businessman, one who was so bland and formulaic that I couldn’t even remember his name by the end of it. To put things in perspective, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World had 7 different villains, all of which had personalities and were memorable. I could remember all their names, and tell you 3 things about each of them. The kicker is that most of those villains only appeared for about 3-10 minutes each.
In this film, the villain is just kind of there. Unfortunately, you’ll notice that this is kind of a trend with a lot of Spielberg films directed at children and teenagers. Earlier, I said that this was Spielberg’s “newest” film, with “newest” being in quotations. The reasons for this is simple, Spielberg’s directing and writing style for films aimed at younger audiences is a bit too bland.
Most of these films are aimed at kids/teens and have Spielberg’s usual plot outline associated with them: Young man with big dreams is forced to on an adventure, while being chased by some big organization or the government. The young man meets an enigmatic figure, befriends an unlikely group of friends, and then goes on a quest to make his dreams come true. That’s basically the plot of Ready Player One, E.T., and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Now, if this were just the first time he’s done it, this wouldn’t be a problem. The thing is that this appears to be one of the only kinds of films that Spielberg knows how to write, since he seems to think that it’s all teens and kids enjoy. Meanwhile, the films Spielberg makes for adults are his true masterpieces, where more of his effort seems to go. Which gives me the feeling that Spielberg seems to have more respect for his older movie-going audience, more-so than the younger audience that sees his other films like E.T. and Hook.
With all that being said, does this mean I hate the movie? Not at all, I actually got it was pretty good. Not a truly great film by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is a fairly fun watch throughout. The effects are great, as are the action scenes. Despite the films severe lack of originality and uniqueness, the way the various parts of this world are designed are just nice to look at.
The opening to this film reminded me a lot of the opening to Summer Wars, both of which were brimming with strange worlds and oddities. The Oasis is basically one big mashup of everything in nerd culture, and it just works well. Fight sequences are also bad-ass and awesome, and are the center-point of this film.
Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the protagonist or villain, I dug several of the side characters. Aech was probably one of my favorites, being the main character’s sassy best friend in The Oasis. I also dug Daito and Sho, two recurring characters who’s game personas have this awesome Japanese vibe going on. There was also i-R0k, a recurring henchman for the main antagonist, one who I found to be a very silly and endearing nerd character.
Also, as intrusive as the references are, they kind of do spice up the film at times. It’s fun to see your favorite hero or villain suddenly show up in the background, or a famous movie character deciding to attack our heroes. The second key challenge felt like it spent too much time on retelling a well-known movie in a short amount of time, but was enjoyable enough that it didn’t feel too stale.
By far, the best character was James Halliday. He’s a socially awkward weirdo, one who created a vast financial empire through the creation of his games. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil the whole film for the few that haven’t see it yet. I think it’s about time I summed up my thoughts on what I thought of the film, since the post is long enough already.
Ready Player One is a good film, but mired by formulaic writing and its overabundance of product placement. It’s a solid experience, despite its flaws. Just be warned, what you’re getting is basically a mishmash of all these franchises you’re already invested in. It’s not going to rock your world, or revolutionize the way you see film.
It’s just another Spielberg film, albeit one that has a lot of effort and passion put into it at times. If you’re interested in nerd culture at all, I suggest at least giving it a watch if you get the chance. However, if you’re not a nerd, then I’m sure this movie won’t do much for you in terms of entertainment.