Ready Player One

Ready Player One (awful title) is set in the future where most of the world’s population (except the ones that are still starving presumably) spend their days playing a massive alternative reality video game called Oasis, devised by autistic recluse James Halliday, played by Mark Rylance. Halliday (is this a nod to the late French pop star Johnny Halliday?) has died and has created an Easter Egg in his game; the first person to unlock the clues will inherit his fortune and rule the Oasis world and … I’m bored already.

The lead character is Wade Watts, a teenage orphan (they’re always orphans) boy who lives with his aunt and her no-good boy-friend (Ralph Ineson – Finchy in The Office – bloody good rep) in Columbus, Ohio. Tye Sheridan as Wade has had a charisma bypass – there’s more life in his avatar Parzifal (not as bad as it sounds) who, in the Oasis world, bears an uncanny resemblance to Chesney Hawkes, 80s one hit wonder. The baddies all resemble WWE wrestlers with the chief one – Nolan Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn, boss of the evil corporation IOI (corporations are always evil) – looking like Vince McMahon and the others all resembling one or other of those steroid fuelled fakers.

Wade’s love interest in the film is an avatar called Artemis. You just knew that Olivia Cooke as Samantha/Artemis would turn out to be an under-stated slim-hipped beauty with only a deftly applied port-wine stain around her right eye marring her perfect looks. Why could she not be a 50 year old retired prison guard with a face like a discarded root vegetable and a body to beat up a lifer? If the whole world is playing this video game, presumably there are some ugly people playing too, why couldn’t she have been one of them? Her flawed beauty is beholden in her eye.

‘I’m not disappointed,’ says Wade, when he meets her in real life after falling in love with her avatar. I ached for her to say ‘well, I am,’ as she gazed upon his flat, dull, podgy featureless face. But she didn’t.

With the enforced retirement of Kevin Spacey, Mark Rylance is arguably the finest actor of his generation and has become quite the Spielberg favourite. His performance lit up the otherwise boring Tom Hanks vehicle Bridge of Spies and he is easily the best thing about this film. Apart from an odd resemblance to Ben Moody’s Fagin in some of his scenes, he has an ability to portray a slightly other-worldly figure utterly convincingly and his measured, beautiful phrasing of some not very profound lines is wonderful to watch and hear.

Easily the best and cleverest scene in the film is a homage to The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece (albeit sans Jack Nicholson) and it is cleverly done, although its role in the plot is not entirely apparent.

Spielberg is a fine director (although his last film – The Post – was dreary) but I struggled to detect any of his particular style or vision in this film. However, he is never one to let a moral slip out unbidden if there’s an opportunity to hit you over the head with it and here he takes the straightest route and just has his character say it at the end. I won’t spoil it for you; you have that particular joy to come.

I don’t play video games; never did, never have, don’t now, have no plans to start so perhaps I wasn’t the best audience for this film. I suppose I can see why other people enjoy them; it’s just that I don’t quite get it. Maybe that’s why I find the title so pedestrian, uninvolving and unwelcoming – is this the best they could come up with? The other thing that annoyed me is that it is set in 2045 but everyone wears normal 2018 clothes – suits, ties, jeans, sneakers, bomber jackets, T shirts, etc – Spielberg obviously couldn’t be bothered to imagine how clothes might change in the future. And will surveillance really be conducted by drones carrying cameras? Even now there are satellites cris-crossing the earth that can see inside brief-cases and read number-plates from miles away – I know, I’ve seen Enemy of the State.

And that damn De Lorean from Back to the Future crops up again. It strikes me that if De Lorean had sold as many cars as have ended up in films, he wouldn’t have gone broke quite so quickly and taken all that Northern Ireland development money with him.

This film’s target audience is teenage boys and I said to my son (17) that most of them wouldn’t get many of the pop culture references – The Shining, Saturday Night Fever, Duran Duran, The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, John Hughes, The Iron Giant. ‘Ah, maybe not,’ he said, ‘but you didn’t get all the video game references – Godzilla, Gundam, Mecha.’  Which I suspect is very true but how many people of my age (62) would see this film out of choice, no matter how much they might worship at the feet of Mark Rylance?

It’s sort of enjoyable (although I looked at my watch 10 minutes in which is never a good sign) and it’s quite well made but, as usual, it’s too long and there’s a silly battle at the end which is just as boring as the ones in all the Transformer films – or is that deliberate and a pop culture reference? And the video game sequences are much better than the real life sequences, and like all Spielberg films it has a happy ending. So perhaps it has his stamp on it after all.


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