“Ready Player One” dishes out a liberal serving of memberberries piled-high atop a generic, hollow bowl. It’s a film that relies so heavily on sweet nostalgia that half of its budget must’ve been spent on securing the rights to the cavalcade of 80s pop songs that pepper the soundtrack. I was equally entertained and fatigued by this rapid fire pop culture reference movie, and I’m rating it three stars not only because it’s enjoyable enough, but also because it’s not as awful as everyone expected it to be.
Based on the 2001 hit science fiction novel by Ernest Cline, the film is set in the year 2045. Citizens seek to escape their bleak daily lives in the virtual world called the OASIS, a fully realized environment where you can do anything and be anyone you choose. The creator of the OASIS (a fantastic Mark Rylance) programmed in a contest so that after his death, a new leader would rise. The majority of the story focuses on Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a gamer who accepts the challenge to solve the puzzle. He, along with his gang of friends called the High Five (Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki), travel and fight their way through the VR universe while facing opposition from the evil corporate leader Sorrento (featuring a downright embarrassingly terrible performance by Ben Mendelsohn).
Steeped in rich source material and directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, this movie should’ve been a slam dunk. It feels oddly miscast and is poorly acted with little emotional impact. Instead of creating an inviting, vibrant world of VR, we get a dull, gray cartoon with muddled, exhausting action sequences. Instead of spending the time giving the characters depth and personality, we get massive explosions, fanboy pop culture references, and hurried cameos that include everyone from Chucky and Harley Quinn to Battletoads and the Iron Giant. Worst of all, only a couple of these characters serve to advance the plot or have anything more to do than just show up so the geeks in the audience will give a smile and nod of recognition.
There are a few moments of brilliance, like when the characters travel into Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film “The Shining,” but the rest of the film is a vacant, lifeless spectacle with zero character development and very little plot. Mainly it’s one giant Easter egg stuffed, “Where’s Waldo?” game of geek culture.
When the film’s final credits roll, this is one that will be met with a hearty shoulder shrug of indifference.