Arts

Film Reviews: Ready Player One mixes teen adventure with pop culture CGI carnage

Steven Spielberg delves into a CGI-powered virtual reality riddled with pop culture references for big budget sci-fi adventure Ready Player One. David Roy attempted to keep up with its myriad game and movie nods

Tye Sheridan stars in Steven Spielberg's new sci-fi extravaganza Ready Player One

WATCHING someone else play a computer game is usually a poor substitute for having the controls in your own sweaty palms.

Steven Spielberg's new sci-fi spectacular Ready Player One makes this very point – that virtual reality can't beat actual visceral life experience – even as it's attempting to wow audiences with a barrage of hi-tech imagery straight out of a hardcore gamer's most feverish fantasies (the 12A-rated ones at least).

Ironically, "reality is the only thing that's 'real'," is the moral at the heart of this two-hours 20 minutes of CGI-powered thrills and spills, which surely set a cinematic record for the most visual and verbal pop culture references ever crowbarred into one film.

Based on the book by Ernest Cline (who co-wrote the screenplay), this teen adventure is set in a bleak vision of 2045 where over-population has forced the masses to live literally on top of each other in slum-style 'stacks' fashioned from miscellaneous junk and all-immersive virtual reality environment the Oasis offers soothing/numbing escape from a rather grim real-world existence.

Spielberg's film revels in getting inside this ginormous 'anything goes' computer-generated environment, spending a good chunk of its running time following teen game whiz Wade (Tye Sheridan) – or rather his Manga-style Oasis avatar, Parzival – blasting around in a Back To The Future-spec DeLorean on the hunt for three 'magic keys'.

Hidden away by enigmatic Oasis co-creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance, channelling Garth from Wayne's World), these promise to unlock sole control of the system to whoever successfully locates them.

In true Spielbergian tradition, Wade is a smart, lonesome kid trapped in a dysfunctional home life with his disinterested auntie (played by Newry's own Susan Lynch) and nasty 'uncle' (Ralph Ineson).

He escapes these domestic doldrums by immersing himself in the hunt for the Oasis keys with his virtual best friend 'Aech' (Lena Waithe): eventually, Wade's talent for the quest brings him to the attention of others: his fantasy game woman 'Art3mis' (Olivia Cooke), who's also trying to crack the Oasis riddle, and scary suit Nolan Sorrento (Ben 'bad guy for hire' Mendelsohn), CEO of sinister corporate behemoth Innovative Online Industries (IOI) with designs on turning the Oasis into the ultimate advertising platform.

The CGI-created in-Oasis sequences are peppered with game and movie references: initially eye-popping in their representation of gamer-style 'race-and-chase' chaos and shoot-'em-up savagery (though there's no blood and guts here – 'terminated' characters instead spew gold coins and accumulated power-ups), these quickly start to feel un-involving.

By contrast, a slower segment in which Zee, Aech, Art3mis and their buddies Sho (Philip Zhao) and (Win Morisaki) Daito get to roam around the set of an iconic 1980s horror film proves much more satisfying.

Happily, the kids also get to meet up 'IRL' on occasion for a little old-fashioned detective work researching Halliday's life for key clues, and there's also some decent adventure flick suspense as they attempt to infiltrate IOI HQ.

Ready Player One's frenzied fanboy fluffing feels like a pointed commentary on our nostalgia-saturated modern age: while the visual effects are stunningly rendered, they're also so exhaustingly and deliberately referential that the film struggles to bring much that's memorably fresh to the table.

By contrast, both TRON and The Matrix managed to transport us to machine-made worlds while also pushing the movie-making envelope in a more instantly iconic manner.

Fun while it lasts, with a few decent chuckles along the way (most supplied by TJ Miller's boneheaded Oasis bounty hunter, I-Rok) to season the 'hey, that's cool' CGI spectacle, it's hard to know if anyone will be referencing Ready Player One in years to come, or even how they would do it.

Outright parody seems the likeliest, most rewarding route.

READY PLAYER ONE (12A, 140 mins) Sci-Fi/Adventure/Action/Thriller/Romance

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, TJ Miller, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Susan Lynch, Ralph Ineson

Director: Steven Spielberg

RATING: 3 STARS

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