Ready Player One review - Spielberg's gargantuan splurge of escapism
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How was this ever a book? Is there any song more perfect to open Ready Player One than Van Halen’s ‘Jump’? Still glowing with kitsch, its chunky synths chime in perfect 8-bit harmony with the film’s nerdiness. But its stadium bombast and immensity also seems appropriate – Ready Player One, when the stops are pulled, is enormous. Were it not for the existence and popularity of Ernest Cline’s book, it’s unlikely such a film would have been made, even with Steven Spielberg at the helm. Studios would probably have branded it as an indulgent mess. Audiences would have seen it as the circle-jerking peak of pop nostalgia, a final hurrah for artefactual cinema before this movie becomes a black hole and sucks in every piece of pop culture made since 1980. Here the movie nonetheless stands, and the qualms of hedonistic nostalgia fetishes can dissipate. Though the film’s emotional stakes could be accused of defeating themselves at every turn, Spielberg keeps our new story in the driver’s seat where it belongs, and the nostalgia largely on the periphery. Our avatar for Spielberg’s 33rd round of play, set in 2045, is Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts. As part of a canon of iconic Spielbergian protagonists –Indiana Jones, Tintin, Jurassic Park’s Dr Malcolm, and the wide-eyed, nerdy loner with whom Watts shares the most DNA, E.T.’s Elliott – he’s barely a little more than non-descript. Sheridan’s performance as the constantly slack-jawed teen fits Watts well enough, but rarely plumbs any kind of depth. Then again, neither does the film, which is far less a problem for the completed whole than the protagonist in particular. Watts, like many others living in the future, is an avid player in the OASIS, a virtual reality universe created by a deified game programmer named James Halliday (a shuffling, quiet Mark Rylance), whose death years before shook America and the world. In his wake, he left behind a set of clues and keys leading to a hidden Easter egg within the game that would grant the user ownership of the OASIS.
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