Despite a wave of cynicism on social media ahead of its release, the SXSW premiere of Ready Player One has unleashed a wave of surprisingly positive reviews for Steven Spielberg’s virtual reality celebration of the pop culture of the 1980s. Not everyone was bowled over by the movie, which certainly seems to have its faults, but haters who were convinced that not even Spielberg could bring Ernest Cline’s novel about future gamers with a retro fetish to the big screen might have to eat their words, it seems.
“Gamers are far from the only ones who will respond to this virtual-world-set picture, which strikes an ideal balance between live action and CGI,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore, adding, “The movie’s biggest attractions can’t be described here without ruining the fun of mystery-solving and spoiling surprise appearances of characters we treasure from our own childhoods. The trailers reveal the very welcome presence of the Iron Giant, whose role in the climax is sweetly true to the character’s nature. But other guest stars play significant roles in the action as well, and they’re not necessarily the ones fans of the novel will expect.”
Others agreed that the movie was an unexpected success. As IndieWire’s Eric Kohn puts it, “It runs too long and drags a bunch in its final third, but make no mistake: This is Spielberg’s biggest crowdpleaser in years, a CGI ride that wields the technology with an eye for payoff. It’s also his most stylized movie since A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, though a lot more fun, with a cavalcade of visuals leaving the impression that he watched a bunch of Luc Besson movies and decided he could outdo them all. The result is an astonishing sci-fi spectacle and a relentless nostalgia trip at once.”
The trick, according to Tasha Robinson from The Verge, is that the director knows when to shut up and let the movie be a movie. “Spielberg doesn’t have Wade talk audiences through [the nostalgia], and he doesn’t spell out the references. He just slaps the car down in the middle of a tremendous early action scene, where it’s prominent, distinctive, and memorable,” she argues. “Fans who want the full nostalgia trip, who want to wring every Easter…
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