Ben Mendelsohn brings much-needed menace to lightweight dystopian adventure
It’s 2045 and America is a multi-storied trailer park slum where every day is grey and dirty, but no one seems to care because we’re all spending every waking moment plugged into a virtual alternate reality called Oasis where you can do and be anyone if you have coin.
For real-life teen loser, Wade Watts, played by pillow-lipped rising star, Ty Sheridan, what matters is finding three keys that unlock the Easter Egg (an in-game present) left by game creator James Halliday on his death bed, played by Mark Rylance channelling Garth from Wayne’s World. The winner of the game wins absolute ownership of the Oasis and a life of riches and privilege.
Wade is joined in his quest by his virtual Goonies called the High Five and is hunted in the real world by very bad guy Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of IOI corporation (Google? Facebook?) who wants to win the game and fill it with advertising. Sorrento, played with escalating menace by Ben Mendelsohn, has an avatar in the game that’s a mix of Don Draper and cartoon superman.
Every player has an avatar that may or may not look like them. Avatars never share their real names or locations. In the hunt for the egg Wade meets and falls for fellow ‘gunter’ Art3mis who wants the prize to take down IOI that enslaved her father and thousands of others who are forced to pay off their debts by playing Oasis for the corporation while living in prison-like conditions.
The plot is simple – win game, get girl, crush baddy – but there is so much quest and counter-quest going on that the film seems bloated despite well over 2 hours running time. It’s a trilogy stuffed into one film.
You’re flipping between the cartoonish virtual action and the real world cartoonish action. You’re watching a quest, a love story, a bromance, the regrets of Halliday, the torrent of 80s games references. You’re meeting virtual players and their real selves in a speedy blur between fights in both universes.
It’s difficult to care for the characters as they look and act different in each realm and in the real world they’re often covered by goggles and tech. Plus everything vaguely feels like we’ve seen it before – the avatars look like Final Fantasy and feel like Surrogates, the huge battle scene at the end like Lord of the Rings meets Transformers.
Then there’s the endless 80’s movie, game and song call-backs. There’s no point keeping track as you’re bound to miss many (if you’re young and not a fanboy) and there were many moments where sections of the audience laughed while others looked on bemused and excluded. I suggest you see the Shining at least before you go, if not the entire Spielberg back-catalogue.
Without question Ready Player One is a fun and rollicking ride.
But if you were moved by the original book by Ernest Cline, like I was, and you’re expecting a gritty dystopian sci fi where the themes of social exclusion, class, gaming culture and corporate corruption are explored, then you’ll be disappointed.
See the movie for fun but read the book after.
3/5 (or 5/5 for 80s fans and gamers)
Words by Irena Bee