It was bound to be a huge hit, at least the first weekend. READY PLAYER ONE is a big-budget movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, based on a really fun, best-selling, adventure novel with nearly endless pop culture references. It probably won’t be dethroned until RAMPAGE hits theaters the weekend of April 13th. But was it any good?
That answer depends what you are hoping to get from it to qualify it as “good”.
Although Ernest Cline’s novel was so popular that it has been translated into 20 different languages, not everyone loved it. Many critics say the quality of writing is worse than 50 Shades Of Grey, which is often cited as being fairly poorly written despite its popularity. To those critics, I say “so what?”, because I don’t need to be in awe of the sentence structure or big words to be able to appreciate a story. I don’t care if there are split-infinitives used to boldly explain things, or whether the passive voice is used. That doesn’t bother me.
I tend to look at movies a similar way, especially what I would call “Popcorn Flicks”.
Not every movie has to be in the running for an Academy Award nomination. Many people I know ONLY go see Popcorn Flicks, and I don’t blame them. Life is too short not to enjoy movies, especially when they’re on a huge screen, accompanied by an amazing sound system, and there’s buttery popcorn involved.
And READY PLAYER ONE is very enjoyable.
Granted, I’ll say that there are quite a few pop culture references that pre-date the birth of anyone not yet 25, a huge portion of the audience, but most of the references are either so iconic that they transcend era (like the Back To The Future car, Terminator 2, King Kong, to name a few), or they’re references that can be appreciated before following-up with some research (like the motorcycle from AKIRA, or the entire sequence involving THE SHINING). There were certainly quite a few references that even the 30-year-olds won’t get (which I’ve confirmed by talking to a few people about the movie), but that didn’t stop people from just enjoying the film.
It’s not a hard film to understand. An awkward technology pioneer created a super vast online world, OASIS, for people to enter using Virtual Reality devices. People use the OASIS for interacting with one another to escape the dystopian environment. The pioneer dies, doesn’t have an heir, and knowing that the “500 Billion Dollar Company” will need the right owner once he’s gone, he established a series of hidden clues to determine who will be its next owner. A huge corporation wants to further monetize OASIS with ads and pay-for-use structures (instead of the pay-for-or-earn-avatar-upgrades model currently in use) and devotes a huge amount of resources to winning the rights to the OASIS by solving the hidden clues. A teenage kid solves the first clue and is immediately targeted as a threat to the desires of the corporation. Toss in an equally skilled female love interest, a best friend, a couple other like-minded competitors, and an evil figurehead for the corporation, and there you go. Easy enough, and fairly straightforward.
There were some aspects to the book that made it a better story than what Spielberg brought to screen, but to include those things would have expanded the film likely to the 3 hour run-time mark, which is a bit too long for some movie-goers. But there were also some welcomed changes where the film diverged from the book. I liked the film’s “movie-within-a-movie” better than what it would have been if they had gone with the “movie” used in the book. The female protagonist taking a much bigger role in the second and third acts of the film were also a welcomed improvement, making her a stronger character than in the book.
Some of the criticism I’m hearing about the film is that it seems to lack a bit of the “Spielberg Magic”, and that perhaps he’s too old to relate to the protagonists in the film. While it’s fair to say that it falls short of the first three Indiana Jones films, Hook, Jurassic Park, and E.T., I’d say that most of the films Spielberg has done in the 2000s have failed to hit on the same “magic” of those classics, so I’m not sure why expectations were that high in the first place. It was still more enjoyable than half of the top 20 grossing films at box offices in 2017. And it’s likely to hold up in years to come and provide for some fun re-watching, at least among the viewers who enjoyed the nostalgia.
The soundtrack choices are a big part of that. Van Halen, RUSH, Twisted Sister, Hall & Oates, among others. It’s a list almost as good as Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Awesome Mix Vol 1. Almost.
Bottomline: If you’re the type of person who looks for plotholes and lets that sort of thing bother you during a first viewing of a movie, then maybe it’s not for you, especially if you’re under the age of 25. But for everyone else, it’s a fun, nostalgia-filled popcorn flick with an interesting storyline and some wild visuals. I enjoyed it enough the first time that I’ll see it a second time, even if it’s not perfect.
My Rating: 85