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Released: 28th March 2018

Directed By: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Indiana Jones. Jaws. Jurassic Park. Throughout his illustrious career, Steven Spielberg has mastered that fine art of pure escapism in cinema, with many great pretenders doing their utmost to step up. On the page, undoubtedly an inspiration for writer Ernest Cline with a best-selling book that is deeply imbued with 1980’s nostalgia, whilst maintaining a sharp focus on the future. The visionary director is synonymous with immersing us in such brilliantly rendered worlds. So it was perhaps inevitable he would be the man tasked in transporting us to the OASIS…

However, ‘Ready Player One’ begins on a grounded and grungy note. Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045 is a desolate far cry from the fantastical confines in which its inhabitants have increasingly grown accustomed to, in their chosen virtual world. Inspired by the comic book alliteration of Spiderman and Hulk alter egos Peter Parker and Bruce Banner, our hero is Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts, complete with a tragic backstory befitting of that genre.

Disillusioned with the grim high-rise of ‘The Stacks’. He is emboldened in the OASIS through his spiky-haired avatar Parzival and his participation in ‘Anorak’s Quest’, a game crafted by its late eccentric creator James Halliday (an unrecognisable Mark Rylance). An Easter egg hunt with the Willy Wonka style prize of gaining full ownership of this world, which may have seen him interact with worthy fellow players like Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). Yet a stiff challenge lies elsewhere, in the form of devilish IOI (Innovative Online Industries) CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

Rather like the ‘treadmill’ Wade hits in its early infancy, the film’s first act does admittedly struggle to build narrative momentum, hamstrung by the heavy weight of its otherwise intelligible exposition. However, once we head to the literal starting grid of this sprawling adventure, Spielberg cranks up the pace with an abundance of visual splendour and affectionate pop-culture riffs.

In what could have been an obnoxious and soulless nostalgia trip. The skillful manner in how he incorporates such references into a sequence is exhilarating, with a crowd-pleasing second-act diversion into an infamous hotel and a chase that is utterly compelling in its chaotic setup, battling it out as the film’s standout. Plus from a pure sentimental standpoint, witnessing large stretches of Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham being represented and fittingly providing the gritty backdrop for such a pulsating work, proved a joy in itself.

Whilst the plot is admittedly on the normal difficulty setting. Spielberg does try to unlock hidden narrative depths as he looks to blur the lines between virtual reality and the real world. The greed of studios that is arguably plaguing the video game industry, taking advantage of such avid gamers, here realised by Sorrento and his army of ‘Sixers’. Our borderline obsession with representing ourselves in a far more positive light in a virtual world, when the reality is all too different, suggesting such constant escape from our human troubles isn’t always healthy.

Matching the vigour of their director, Tye Sheridan’s Wade and Olivia Cooke’s Art3mis make for a charismatic and charming double-act, both cementing their rising star status. A worthy adversary is found in an always reliable Ben Mendelsohn, who is clearly having a blast playing this sinister corporate figure, whilst Mark Rylance as James Halliday brings a much-needed heart to proceedings with his geeky introvert.

An ingenious and immersive thrill-ride. ‘Ready Player One’ pushes all the right buttons.