Let’s talk about Ready Player One.

Watching the development of this movie was an interesting one. It is based on a book and as the publicity for the film started, the book entered the backlash phase of its existence. You know, the point where it’s been around enough for people to re-read it a few times and notice all the faults you may not have noted the first time around. So people realised that it relied way too much on pop culture references, though that was the reason people loved the book in first place, and that there were some questionable choices that could be seen as sexist by the author. I’d call it problematic if I didn’t hate that word.

So people were unsure how good the movie would be even though Steven Spielberg was directing. The first difficulty he has is to introduce us to the massive world of the Oasis. The movie is set in the VR internet world called the Oasis where you can do pretty much anything you want so it’s no surprise that most people spend all their time there. It was created by a deliberately uncharismatic Mark Rylance and with him dying before the start of the movie, a competition is in place with the winner taking control of the Oasis. So there are the followers of Halliday, as Rylance’s character is called, facing off with an evil corporation that want to take over the Oasis so they can monetise it. Hmm, that seems like that’s commentary on something.

The first problem the movie faces is that it just plunges you head first into this world without taking a breath. Tye Sheridan, who plays main character Parzival, introduces us to the world with a lengthy narration and soon as the narration is done, we are further plunged into the first challenge, a race where Parcival is driving a DeLoreon through New York while evading monsters such as King Kong. Yes, the pop culture references still define the moie so if you loved that part of the book, you are well served here. The movie rushes through the completion of the first challenge, which sort of demeans how no one has been able to complete this for years, and we are also introduced to several other characters such as Artemis at breakneck speed and we are again rushed through several key plot points which make little impact because of that. The first third of the movie struggles because of the quick pace.

However the movie starts to settle down after a bit and that’s when it becomes an incredibly enjoyable blockbuster. The second challenge sees the High Five, the team of gunters Parcival and Artemis form to complete the quest, have to search for a woman in The Shining hotel. In the hands of a hack, this would be what many criticise the book for, a pop culture reference for the sake of a pop culture reference. Instead this is the best homage to the classic horror movie since The Simpsons did The Shinning. They get the look of the hotel perfect and replicate the scenes to the best of their ability considering that this is a 12A which means you can’t exactly have a mad man chasing you with an axe. You can get away with the naked women in the bathtub though which is quite amazing. This is a really fun sequence which shows Spielberg knows how to mix the pop culture references with geniunely enjoyable set pieces.

The reason the second half of the movie is much better the first is because it finally figures out what it wants to do. In the first half the movie is so busy trying to introduce the world and its characters it doesn’t really have time for the plot, it’s part of the pacing issue the movie has in that section of the movie. But when the movie settles down, it has a basic plot of a bunch of underdogs taking on an evil massive corporation with all the odds seemingly stacked against them. It’s a plot that’s been done a lot but when it’s done well, it works really well like here. It allows the movie to focus on the likable characters and fun set pieces which is what has got people to buy the ticket, so why not focus on them?

Ready Player One is a fun movie once it gets settled down and knows what it wants to do. The pop culture references are fun rather than overbearing, there’s enough changes from the book to remove those elements which made everyone dread the existence of the movie and there are a lot of a fun sequences which is what you want from a blockbuster. Bare with it for the first third as it rushes through to the good bit and ignore the more cringeworthy things, Parzival falls in love more quickly than Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande and it ends just as well, and you have a very fun blockbuster which is well worth your time.

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.