Since the beginning of time, Hollywood has sought to faithfully, and successfully, adapt stories told in Video Games to the big screen. Most of the time, it doesn’t work. Films have 3 hours *maximum* to make an impression, whereas games can let their tales play out over 150 hours if they want to.
“But the new generation of filmgoers need something video game related to hold their attention!” so cry executives across the globes. And so we have Ready Player One, a film adapted from a 2011 book set in a video game world. Should it see success, we’ll have an entirely new genre of film to consume: “video game-ish”.
Ready Player One Review
As mentioned, Ready Player One is an adventure film adapted from the bestselling novel by Ernest Cline. Starring Tye Sherridan (me neither) as Wade Watts/Parzival, and Olivia Cooke (name rings a bell) as Art3mis, Ready Player One tells the story of a young gamer trying to find a series of secrets in an alternate reality universe entitled the OASIS. The creator of the world, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has passed away, and has tasked the players in the world to find 3 keys which he has hidden across the game. The first to find all 3 keys will win Hailliday’s fortune, as well as sole ownership of the OASIS. In Watts’ way stands IOI, a mega-corporation intent on winning the OASIS, and turning into a Microtransaction-riddled hell.
Ready Player Dumb
Unfortunately, Ready Player One doesn’t nearly come close to matching it’s intriguing premise. Early in the film, it’s established that Halliday was a huge “80’s and pop culture” guy. That is the justification for every location, costume, and mcguffin is in some way related to a film, game, band or whatever from something that has a level of popularity in the real world. Watts’ vehicle of choice in the OASIS is the Delorean. His best friend, Aech, is building The Iron Giant. The entire second key trial takes place inside the film depiction of The Shining. It’s a cute idea, but my GOD does it get old.
This wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t so, for a lack of a better word, boring. This is Steven Spielberg’s first “fantasy” type picture since…Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, maybe? Though I guess we should count Tintin and the BFG, considering a good three quarters of RPO is animated. It’s fair to say this isn’t the guy’s finest hour. Not through want to trying, I’ll say. The opening 20 minutes is essentially “Podracing meets Wacky Races”, but Speilberg does chase sequences better than most. Intercutting banter between the characters with explosions and what have you is is infinitely more interesting than 20 minutes of small space ships going left to right.
Though that’s kind of where it peaks, unfortunately. No amount of set pieces can save what is a dreadfully boring script being played out by dreadfully stilted actors. Or animations of actors, should I say.
Ready Player One pitches itself as the newest Spielberg classic, but you come away feeling very little. What it has in spectacle is lost in its lack of heart. While there are moments of the patented “Spielberg magic” sprinkled over its 2 hour-ish run time, that doesn’t save it from, essentially becoming, a motion picture set against the backdrop of a Reddit thread. It’s a film so desperate to become the next timeless film (think Back to the Future, think Star Wars), and it marketed as such. But it’s never brave enough or bold enough to try and step out of the shadows of the films it wants to live by.
The teaser was released behind a slowed version of “Pure Imagination”. In reality, if you come with me, you will be in a world of someone else’s imagination.
For my money, Ready Player One is an example of how not to do video game-inspired cinema. I (would like to) think the film-going public wants more from it’s movies than references to other films and video games. Which is why I’m delighted to report that Pacific Rim Uprising is a rousing success.
Pacific Rim Uprising Review
Set 10 years after the Battle of the Breach, Pacific Rim Uprising follows John Boyega as Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), as he attempts to reintegrate into Jaeger program. As he takes on his role, a new threat appears to but the fate of humankind at risk, and it’s up to Jake and his PPDC buddies to stop the Kaiju once more.
Clutching at Straws
“How does Pacific Rim Uprising count as “video game inspired”?” I hear you ask. Well let me tell you. What is MORE video game-y than a bunch of giant robots kicking a group of giant aliens to death? It could be an anime, sure. But couldn’t you just see that being the premise of a 2004 PS2 game? And when they combine with combos and special moves, it’s pure video game magic, baybeeeeeeeee.
In stark contrast to Ready Player One, Pacific Rim Uprising boasts a pretty uninspired premise, played out by an extremely charismatic cast. John Boyega is great as Jake Pentecost, almost cementing Boyega as one of the most exciting sci-fi actors in the business. Opposite Boyega stands Cailee Spaeny, a newcomer to the game, who delivers a really enjoyable performance as an orphaned junk-yard scavenger. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman reprise their roles as a pair of madcap scientists, and the voice of GLaDOS (Ellen McLain) plays the Jaeger’s…SIRI, I guess.
Pacific Rim Uprising is nice and simple. There is no better way to describe it, I don’t think. Pacific Rim struggled with pacing issues, and generally uninteresting characters. Pacific Rim Uprising takes the foundation laid in the first film and builds something tighter and, frankly, more enjoyable. Thanks to the legwork made by Guillermo del Toro and his team in 2013, Uprising doesn’t need to give you much more than a brief catch up early on to set up the film. Without delving too far into spoiler territory, it takes a point from the first film and exploits that as the crux of the plot in the second. In that sense, it’s the perfect sequel.
I mean, that doesn’t make it a perfect film. Not by any stretch. The story, while easily understandable and enjoyable, is still incredibly outlandish. This won’t win any awards for challenging the form. It’s still a loud, dumb movie about big robots kicking giant monsters in the face. While the cast are enjoyable, and their performances too, it’s difficult to see any progression in terms of the characters presented to us. Jake Pentecost is supposed to grow from a petty criminal to leader of the PPDC, but his journey to that point isn’t really documented. It just kind of happens.
A word, as well, for the obligatory love triangle. Early on, Jake and his PPDC rival/probably best friend, Nate Lambert, are introduced (reintroduced, in Nate’s case) to Jules Reyes, played by Adria Arjona. Both Jake and Nate are shown on a handful of occasions to have romantic feelings for Jules, which led to every pair of eyes in the cinema screen to roll in unison. Except it goes nowhere. Neither character gets the girl, neither character makes their move. It’s brought up, and dropped almost immediately. I think this is great. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be left as such, but the flagrant dismissal of “the love interest” trope as something that doesn’t matter in the grand sense of the plot is pretty brave. It sets an example that the women in these films shouldn’t exist to be a prize, or a device for which the plot/characters can develop from. The trope is brought up and literally is used as a source of humour from that point. I think that should be seen and applauded.
So what have we learned? For one: Video Game Films definitely have a place in Cinema. For all its faults, I do think Ready Player One will find a sizeable audience that does enjoy it. I just wish it had gone about its business in a smarter fashion. On the other end of the spectrum, Pacific Rim Uprising tells a video game story, without reverting to all the tropes and stereotypes you’ll find in a film based on various video games. And while I do think Pacific Rim Uprising is the superior experience, I fear Ready Player One will be the blueprint. Not for its quality, but for the manner in which it exists.
“Video Game-ish” doesn’t have to be a film about a video game. It can be a story that could exist in a game brought to life. I guess is what I’m trying to say.