Ready Player One feels like a warm-up exercise in CGI, and a middling attempt (at best) in fruitful storytelling. Like the trailers that precede it, the film holds back nothing when it comes to slathering pop culture references across the screen while 80's music transitions viewers between nearly every single scene. My biggest concern going into the film was how it was going to deal with setting the scene for all of its large set-pieces to take place. While exposition can certainly be a double-edged sword in that it can bore folks to death, Ready Player One would've benefited heavily. At best, there's an overview of the state of the world, but little else. Most things or concepts that are in play feel little more than that's-just-the-way-things-are. To preface a bit, Ready Player One juggles between two vastly different settings, a poverty-ridden near future, and a VR simulation aptly named The Oasis. In this world, people use The Oasis as a way to escape from the trials and tribulations of present day, and flee to worlds as creative as their hearts desire.
Being such a grandeur concept, this absolutely leads to some impressive scenery. While the action sequences do initially come off as hectic and chaotic, the use of creative camera work and pacing keep things focused and tense—and this is where the film truly shines. It is, however, unfortunate that this effect runs dry fairly quickly. Ready Player One is a lot like cotton candy: fluffy, a pleasure to enjoy (in bits), but overall unrealistic to think that it'd keep you full. Far too many things about the film lack polish, and give off the feel that it's more of a conceptual or pre-release film, rather than the final product.
For instance, it's a wonder how the film can, at times, make wonderful usage of video game and comic book characters, and yet somehow churn out the most mundane looking main characters. The only thing more bland is the flat, boring and lifeless delivery of Halladay—the creator of The Oasis. It's never made believable that the world's most disinteresting human being somehow creates a product that ends up being his exact polar opposite. While not nearly as lifeless, the main villain is also as forgettable as any other number of corporate honchos. Let's also take a moment to touch on the main characters, who quite honestly, deserve little more than that. A majority of their interactions follow the same formula of 'This is the way that this thing is done. But [redacted] didn't want us to look at it like that, so if we look at it like this, then we solve the puzzle!' Rinsing and repeating that a half dozen more times, and that's the entirety of the movie as well as their dialogue.
It's tough to pinpoint exactly where the film struggles most. It often feels like the product of disillusioned adults trying to create a movie that tugs on the strings of their younger counterparts. Like our most poignant memories, we remember the moments that shine brightest, but not necessarily the steps that it took to get there. And like that, Ready Player One wants you to bask in all of those bright spots, but if you ever take a moment to question exactly why things are happening as they are, you'll find little substance to justify anything that takes place. If condensed solely into action sequences, you'd have yourself an incredibly impressive demo-reel that showcases some of the very finest CGI to date. Stretch that out into an actual movie, however, and you have yourself a film that long overstays its welcome and one that has no idea how to show itself out.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.