Thursday, June 28, 2018

In short: Ready Player One (2018)

In the bad future of the 2040s, the world is a greyish brown craphole, so large parts of society escape into the virtual world of Oasis, a random assortment of pop culture and videogame tropes nobody actually playing MMOs today would believe to be successful or not sued into oblivion for copyright infringement. Oasis was apparently mostly built by a cliché tech nerd named Halliday (Mark Rylance) and his only, later bought out, friend Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg, doing to an American accent what he has already done to a Scottish one). For his death a couple of years before the plot sets in, Halliday has hidden away a Big Secret as well as the ownership of Oasis as an Easter egg inside of the virtual world. Until now, nobody has been able to find the secret, despite hordes of fans as well as an Evil Corporation™ trying very hard.

The film follows the meandering adventures of Halliday superfan Wade aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan), his best online bud H (Lena Waithe) and the mysterious Artemis (Olivia Cooke, who actually gets to do more stuff than you’d expect from a female character for this sort of film with this particular guy in the director’s chair) when they actually start to unravel Halliday’s increasingly stupid riddles while fighting off EvilCorps's Saturday morning cartoon goons.

I don’t think the critical mauling of this Steven Spielberg flick based on the insufferable novel by Ernest Cline is completely undeserved, seeing as its first hour or so mostly consists of mediocre animated characters wandering through an ugly and random animated world mostly based on 80s and 90s pop culture – speaking of actual design seems uncalled for – with characterization and dialogue on the level of a YA novel for particularly dense teens (which is still preferable to the smug winking of Cline’s book). Worst of all, it has a joyless feel you don’t usually encounter in a non-serious Spielberg movie.

However, then, after an hour or an hour and half of boredom, something strange happens: the pop cultural references start to cohere, visual gags sometimes become funny, and Spielberg finally falls back on his talents as popcorn cinema storyteller extraordinaire, suddenly hitting well-worn plot beats with heft and energy, making the up to that point absolutely lifeless film feel vibrant and lively. The plot is still pretty stupid, mind you, but now it is presented with a sense of excitement and fun Ready Player One had before been missing completely. The ending is complete pap, of course, but then, how are you sensibly going to end a film whose final philosophy is “reality is real” (insert sound of your favourite dead philosopher rotating in their grave), that wants to criticize consumer culture, but not so much as to anger any of the myriad of product placers involved in it, and that thinks virtual reality is awesome, but you need to take two days a week off to snog Olivia Cooke?

But hey, there are at least 45 entertaining minutes in here, which is quite a bit more than I’d say about the novel it is based on.

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