If you don’t think too hard about it, Ready Player One can just be an entertaining silly movie, but at two hours and 20 minutes long (!!), you’ll likely find yourself with plenty of time to think. And then, things fall apart.
The effects-heavy actioner, directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from Ernest Cline’s eponymous novel, is basically a quest film, drenched in bright, digitally animated colors and simply dripping with in-jokes and pop-culture references. If a film could collapse in on itself, due to its slavish devotion to a specific subset of 1980s entertainment, Ready Player One would be that black hole. (Or more correctly, 1979’s The Black Hole.)
It’s 2045, and things are so grim in the U.S.A. that everybody just avatars up and hangs out playing games in an all-consuming virtual world known as the OASIS. (Maybe if all these bright young people weren’t dressing up as robots and dragon warriors in a giant nowhere, and instead, devoted that energy to reality, things could be improved. Just an idea!) When the OASIS’s beloved creator, Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he leaves behind the ultimate game: Solve your way to finding three keys, and the winner takes control of the OASIS and nets a huge sum. Basically, we watch as Wade (Tye Sheridan), and his friends (Olivia Cooke and Lena Waithe) search for clues, complete challenges and try to outrun a generic corporate villain (Ben Mendelsohn), who also wants the prize.
The work’s intent, though, seems to be a very expensive glorification of those pop-cultural consumers who need you to know they know everything. About early Atari games. Films adapting Stephen King novels. Assorted branded robots. Pop music from the 1980s. Early web search engines. And the longer this film went on, the less enamored I became of it. Not just because the last couple of reels start to drag — never has an outcome been in less doubt. But because, man, can’t we just get our collective selves out of some teenage boy’s bedroom, circa 1985, with his “nerd”-approved but limited tastes in action figures, Huey Lewis songs and pop-culture trivia, and just move on? That’s a quest I’d like to see. In 3-D, in select theaters. Starts Thu., March 29