“READY PLAYER ONE” (PG-13)
In an odd way, this nostalgic, visually dynamic but overstuffed action film oddly manages to succeed and fail at the same time.
This Steven Spielberg-directed movie that plays out mainly in an eye-popping CGI world delivers that virtual place called Oasis as no film has done before. Action and sweeping vistas are so deep and dense that they seem to stimulate your imagination and make your head hurt all at the same time.
A tendency showing up in far too many Spielberg movies lately—overly simplistic characters driven by action instead of a developed sense of self—shows up here as well.
But for a while, the tripping that is the Oasis compensates, as different races, battles, planets and virtual playgrounds blow your mind.
The story is simple: young Parzival/Wade (Tye Sheridan) is like most of the people living in the not-so-distant future, eschewing real life for time spent in the virtual world called Oasis.
In addition to the fact that the Oasis is more fun and seems to be more meaningful that the drag real world, there’s something else pulling Wade (Parzival is his avatar’s name) and the rest of the population into that virtual world.
The guy that created the Oasis, Halliday (Mark Rylance), has died, on his way out challenging all players to find clues and an “Easter Egg” he’s hidden in Oasis. The prize: riches and control of the Oasis.
If Wade is the hero—and yes, that’s where this is heading—there’s also a villain. He’s Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the evil corporate chief of a company that’s pouring billions into trying to find the Easter Egg and take control of the Oasis for nefarious ends.
This all gets set up well at first. But after a while, this film with a fanboy feel that’s overstuffed with ‘80s songs and pop culture references begins to feel thinner and thinner.
This reviewer would have liked a more edgy and dangerous world in the Oasis. Instead, the reliance on nerd-speak, video-game reality and goody-two-shoes characters makes it all feel more like an episode of “The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.”
Part of the trouble joining the video-game plot to an edgier tale is the fact that most of the story happens in the Oasis. And another part is that this is a fairly lackluster cast, with Sheridan as milquetoast as they come.
Ryland is a world-class actor, but here Spielberg and the script make his seem a babbling cross between a nerd and a Hobbit.
The other problem, like so many films lately, is that it all goes on just too long.
Yes, it would be hard to decide which amazing Oasis scenes to take out.
But an editor should have bit the bullet and sliced 30 minutes or so out of this film that runs at 140 minutes.
And yet, for all this critic’s quibbling, he’s glad he saw the film, and might go see it again to see what was missed in those dense, amazingly realized action scenes.
It’s interesting, but in different hands, it could have been truly amazing.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language. 140 min. Playing locally at Marquee Southpoint 9, Paragon Village 12 and Regal Fredericksburg 14.
Rob Hedelt: 540.374.5415