Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 140 mins
Ready Player One is an American film about a future where people live their lives around Oasis, a virtual reality that allows people to be whatever they wish. When the creator of Oasis dies, he leaves a series of challenges to players in order to determine who takes charge of the world’s most widespread resource, and his immense fortune.
For a film that, at least from the outside, looks like little more than a special effects extravaganza stuffed full of cheesy 80s references, I have to say that Ready Player One is an enormous success. Not only does it thrill with its exceptional visual effects (honestly some of the best I’ve ever seen), and entertain with its pop culture consciousness, but it’s also a story that’s full of heart, featuring genuinely delightful characters in the middle of a kick-ass blockbuster story, keeping you entertained to the full at every minute.
Let’s start off with the film’s most remarkable feature, the visuals. At first, I was really worried that this would be another Spielberg flop (War Of The Worlds, The BFG) in which garish CGI is prioritised over storytelling. Fortunately, that’s not at all the case, meaning that you can enjoy and marvel at the truly astonishing effects from beginning to end. It’s honestly quite amazing to see how deep, diverse and vibrant an entire world can be created through computer animation, and in tandem with state-of-the-art motion capture technology, your jaw will be on the floor with some of the visuals here.
Previously, my biggest caveat with motion-capture and CGI that aims to imitate real humans (take Rogue One’s Grand Moff Tarkin as an example) was that it just doesn’t look real enough yet to convince you, making for a rather distracting presence in the middle of the film. The great thing about Ready Player One, however, is that because it’s set in the virtual world, things aren’t meant to look totally realistic, so that allows the filmmakers to play around with the visuals – giving characters massive anime-style eyes and ridiculous body stages – all the while crafting a visual experience unlike any other, combining all of the video game lore and references you can imagine with incredibly dynamic effects all the way through. In short, this film is probably the most visually thrilling I’ve ever seen, and one of the very few that actually manages to utilise its incredible technology in an appropriate way for the story at hand.
Now, let’s talk about that story. The premise for Ready Player One may ring a few bells, as it’s exceedingly similar to Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars in its focus on a virtual world in the near future that features world-dominating potential and importance. Much like Summer Wars, however, Ready Player One, manages to prove a fantastically entertaining, riveting and often even surprisingly powerful watch. On the one hand, the adventure following our heroes through the virtual world is truly wonderful, simply because it feels like the very best sort of true popcorn blockbuster entertainment, harking back to the old days of Spielberg’s very best family entertainment in the 70s and 80s.
However, the great thing about this film is that it’s not just a blockbuster set in the virtual world. While the effects are undoubtedly incredible, the way that the film balances the entertainment in the game world with genuine heart and drama in the real world is what really makes it work. Normally, films like this are either too heavy on the fantasy (take Avatar – nobody remembers the human characters’ story), or balance it well but are too dry in the world, making for a bit of a dull watch. In this case, the human characters’ side to the story is just as engrossing as the virtual world is exciting, with strong and charismatic performances across the board bringing you fully into the story, and making the film feel so much more about the characters than just the effects.
Overall, I had an absolute blast with Ready Player One. It’s a massively entertaining blockbuster from Steven Spielberg that features both great thrills and great heart, making it an engrossing watch from start to finish, only furthered by some of the most exceptional visual effects you’ll ever see, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.3.