Film review: Ready Player One – Pure Spielberg magic

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Steven Spielberg is undoubtedly the king of blockbuster cinema. In fact, some cinema aficionados have suggested that he was the mastermind behind the big summer tent-pole movie with his 1975 classic, Jaws. 

Of course, his career is now legend and with films like Jurassic Park, E.T., Schindler’s List and Indiana Jones on his CV, it’s easy to see why. That makes it even more strange that his box-office pulling power seems to have been in doubt more recently.

True, he’s stayed away from big blockbusters for the last few years, the closest he has really got is The BFG, but many longed for the return of his earlier work, the crowd-pleasing films that have really defined his time in Hollywood over the last four decades. Well, their prayers may have been answered with Ready Player One, but is this Spielberg at his very best?

Set in 2045, the world is on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive VR universe created by the eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the world. When an unlikely hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery and danger.

Just from reading about the plot, you can tell the film would have Spielberg written all over it. Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name, is a love letter to pop culture in the 80s and the director helped define quite a lot of it. The film is brimming with colour and is one of the most visually dazzling movies of recent memory. It’s best to watch this on the biggest screen possible and is definitely worth paying the extra for a 3D viewing.

The cast are all pretty much spot on. Tye Sheridan is much better here than his Cyclops persona in the X-Men universe and Ben Mendelsohn’s Nolan Sorrento is a menacing villain. After this and Rogue One, he’s certainly carving a path for himself on the darker side of film. Elsewhere, Olivia Cooke is a pleasure to watch as Tye Sheridan’s love interest throughout.

Finally, special mention must go to the ever-wonderful Mark Rylance. As eccentric as Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, Rylance really is a master at creating fascinating characters just from simply reading the novels. He may not be in Ready Player One very much, but his presence is felt across the running time.

As with many Spielberg films, the detail and excitement come at the cost of character development outside of our lead hero. Sheridan gets a pleasingly fleshed out backstory but his friends and fellow avatars in the OASIS lack depth, though the script does help alleviate this somewhat. In the hands of a lesser film-maker, Ready Player One could have come across as hollow; thankfully it doesn’t.

To look at, there really is nothing else like it out there. Aside from Avatar, no film of the last decade or so comes close to looking this expensive. Both the real world and the OASIS itself are absolutely crammed full of stunning special effects, whether that be practical or CGI. Of course, CGI is used in abundance, but it’s beautifully done.

Then there are the pop culture references. From King Kong to Jurassic Park (not everything is from the 80s) there really is something for everyone. One sequence involving a rather iconic horror film from the decade is unquestionably astounding. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t rank among my favourite scenes of the year when December rolls around.

Alas, it’s not all good news. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Ready Player One is a long film, and it needs to be. Ernest Cline’s novel is so jam-packed with its own Easter eggs that it would be impossible to create a movie any shorter and still do the source material justice. Unfortunately, while Spielberg does his best, there are moments where things feel a little rushed.

Nevertheless, Ready Player One is an absolute thrill-ride from start to finish and is pure Spielberg in the very best way. Like he did way back in 1993 with Jurassic Park and even further back still in 1982 with E.T., he somehow manages to create a world that is truly magical, but entirely believable. No director working today has the ability to change his craft to suit the genre, but Spielberg manages it time and time again and Ready Player One is his best film in years.

Ready Player One rating: 8/10