Ready Player One

Ready Player One

In Theatres: 
Mar 29, 2018
Running Time: 
140 minutes

Hotly anticipated by gamers and calculated within an inch of its life to tap directly into the nostalgia vein of anyone over 25, many have been holding their breath for Ready Player One.

Some, in a wildly confident, yet supremely incorrect fashion, dared to call it Black Panther for geeks.

This statement is so busy erasing the existence of Black geeks it’s amazing that somehow it also simultaneously ignores vast amounts of film history. Marvel for the past decade, anyone? This claim reads more like someone who is upset at the Black Panther’s success and is hoping RPO will be able to take the throne and restore the white, male, patriarchal geek norm.

Every aspect of Black Panther brought something new to the table. There was creative control as we hadn’t seen in previous Marvel films, costuming, representation, music, characters and storyline that distinguished itself from its predecessors. BP elevated the idea of what a superhero film could discuss and accomplish.  For RPO to do the same, it would have to be just as equally excellent and inventive.

Ready Player One is not that movie.

The visuals are rich and exciting, bursting with late 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s nostalgia. It is nearly impossible to feel anything but that fond flutter of happy recognition when your favorite cartoon or video character pops up. As someone who grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars, playing Street Fighter 2 and who became a lover of the first six seasons of Gilmore Girls, the reverence for pop culture was made for me. The special effects do an amazing job at immersing the viewer into VR internet gaming world of The OASIS, and Spielberg's direction of the first race scene brilliantly communicates exactly how that world operates.

However, outside of The OASIS, the world building is thin. In 2045, Columbus, OH is the fastest growing city on earth. The world is ravaged by war and people have stopped trying to solve problems and are now trying to outlive them. How do they do this? What kind of jobs do they have? How are folks surviving in these ramshackle, stacked trailers? Why are the police totally absent for most of the film? Why do kids still attend a brick and mortar school when everyone has access to VR?  Is The OASIS important to survival or is just a good time?

When the one of the creators of The OASIS dies, a quest for three keys hidden within begins. The one who solves the puzzles to win the keys will become exceedingly wealthy and maintain control of The OASIS. Our scrappy team races the clock against the greedy IOI corporation for gold, glory, and ethics (?).

However, there is nothing surprising about the story of RPO.  Besides the winning the first race Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) is rather mediocre. His motivation and skills are incredibly weak, especially when compared to  Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke). Wade is in the quest for his own personal gain throughout much of the film, while Samantha is interested in supporting the (woefully unexplored) rebellion against the IOI, who ripped her family apart. Wade does solve the first/last puzzle and wins the first/last key, but from there on it’s either Samantha or Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe, a black woman who games!) who do the sleuthing and risk taking that makes his winning possible. All of which begs the question, why isn’t Samantha the main character?

Moreover, the men in the film treat women as romantic objects. The creator of the OASIS traps the digital version of his only love in a zombie dancing hell, because she failed to fall in love with him after he refused to express interest in her or respect her hobbies. Wade insists he’s in love with Samantha and when she pushes back that he doesn’t know the real her, he ignores her and she eventually gives in. It’s clear why Wade would be interested in Samantha, she is cute, brave, smart, and passionate but return of this affection isn’t given any rhyme or reason. It seems she returns his feelings because he exists. Wade declares that unlike the OASIS creator, he won’t be too afraid to kiss a girl and so he gets to.

It’s true Ready Player One was meant to celebrate all things past, yet still it is supposed to take place in the future. There’s no reason to continually repeat these tired and reductive tropes. While all things are derivative, it doesn’t mean we can’t go beyond simple copy and paste. We’ve all seen this storyline before, many, many times. Not all nostalgia is good and not everything in the past is worth reverence.

Ready Player One is a great ride, full of spectacle and worth the IMAX splurge, but lacking a core. It’s the delicious brain candy that won’t give your much to chew on.  If you want to come for the king, you best not miss.

Maria Jackson
Review by Maria Jackson
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