Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel Ready Player One is the decade’s most baffling literary success story. Set in a dystopian 2045, it’s a sloppily written memberberry-crumble of 1980s nostalgia designed to make middle-aged men feel special for knowing lots of pop culture aimed at teenage boys. (No entertainment made for girls survives into Cline’s vision of the future.) By jettisoning pretty much everything but the bare skeleton of the plot and characters while expanding the scope beyond the 1980s, Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation climbs its way up to exhausting, headache-inducing mediocrity.
Doughy young Wade (Tye Sheridan), the kind of vile human who unironically uses the word “noob,” is one of millions who spend most of their time in a virtual-reality world called the OASIS, searching for hidden keys that grant the player massive wealth and control over it. The film is the technological marvel you’d expect from Spielberg, and the gender politics are a (slight) improvement over the book, but it’s wasted on a vehicle for references. Hey, do you know Batman? Van Halen’s “Jump”? Back to the Future? Freddy Krueger? Say Anything? Billy Idol? The Atari 2600? King Kong? Robocop? Mobile Suit Gundam? Beetlejuice? Alien? Buckaroo Banzai? If so, Ready Player One is here to make you feel special.
Opens Thursday at the AMC Van Ness 14, the Century San Francisco Centre 9, the AMC Metreon 16, the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, the AMC Dine-In Kabuki, and the Balboa Theater.