Nostalgia can be one hell of a drug.
People often find themselves at the mercy of the past, enamored by the pop culture that they grew up with, whether it was first beating a major video game or watching a great childhood film. These are the memories that even the least pop-culture centric people can cling onto.
Author Ernest Cline knows a thing or two about the power of nostalgia because he wrote an entire book dealing with it. So, paired with a filmmaker who has supplied viewers with some of the most beloved films of the last 40 years, this might be the ultimate ticket to a nostalgia-fueled ride.
Ready Player One is a film based off of Cline’s novel of the same name. Directed by American director Steven Spielberg, the film concerns a virtual world, known as the OASIS, filled to the brim with people existing through their avatars. These avatars range from original creations to characters from pop culture.
That is the film’s signature hook. Hundreds upon hundreds of licensed characters appear, ranging from video games (like Street Fighter, God of War or even Knack) and films (honestly there are too many to name but regardless, seeing Kaneda’s motorcycle from Akira is pretty cool).
Visually, the film is a marvel. Spielberg is still in top form when it comes to directing pure spectacle, as seen with an exhilarating race sequence early on in the film. The excitement of seeing several vehicles from movies like Mad Max, Batman and of course, Back to the Future clashing on a race to the (virtual) death can’t be matched. Like a good roller coaster, the film offers enough thrills to keep any audience member enthralled.
Unfortunately, those thrills stop once the characters open their mouths. Now, it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint why that is. Zak Penn and Cline’s screenplay is not the best, though neither is the acting from stars Tye Sheridan or Olivia Cooke. Scenes where characters sit and spout movie or game references are boring and feel unnecessary. Spielberg was always a phenomenal visual storyteller, but why he felt the need to tell instead of show is baffling.
The acting is not the worst. Whenever Ben Mendelsohn appeared on screen as the charismatic villain, it was a delight, making the slower scenes easier to digest.
Thankfully, those scenes do not last long. The pacing is brisk, taking viewers on a nostalgia-fueled tour for 140 minutes. The excitement of being able to see a character from Sonic the Hedgehog or the titular Iron Giant is something that can make the coldest cynic crack the simplest smile.
Spielberg birthed the modern blockbuster in 1975 with Jaws. Ready Player One is nowhere near the film that Jaws was, but it shows that the 71-year-old can stir up excitement and imaginative experiences like no other.