Ready Player One

Nostalgia is a huge business. Rose-coloured glasses are never in short supply as people look back with fondness on at least one aspect of their lives. Movies are no different with a plethora of celluloid product indulging in our craving for yesteryear. Directed by the master of cinematic melancholy Steven Spielberg, ‘Ready Player One’ is steeped in 1980’s-style retro glory. Based on Ernest Cline’s novel, those who grew up in that decade will be in nirvana as its characters take a trip through a catalogue of neon-infused memories.

In the future, most of humanity escapes into a computerised haven called Oasis. An on-line place where anyone can control their destiny, its power is immense. One player, Wade (Tye Sheridan), takes up a challenge set by Oasis founder James (Mark Rylance). Creating a competition for those who complete difficult obstacles with the winner gaining a fortune and total control of Oasis, James seeks a worthy heir. Wade dives into the virtual world presenting its own threats as the world’s future hangs in the balance.

‘Ready Player One’ is a glossy movie full of CGI and action. Spielberg knows how to direct amazing action sequences with his flair in making them interesting clearly seen. He’s a cinematic magician who conjures new ways of putting characters in peril with the ‘on-line world’ giving him licence to push imaginative boundaries. Infused with themes of humanity’s increasing reliance on machines and how they isolate people, ‘Ready Player One’ seems a natural for a fast-paced diverting time. That it isn’t is due to poor characterisation and story.

Apart from Ben Mendelsohn’s role as an evil corporate genius, none of the other characters register as they are all bland cut-outs which the on-line versions of themselves only highlight. Had more time been spent on exploring their ‘real world’ and how it came to be such a wasteland, ‘Ready Player One’ may have had more depth. Despite Spielberg’s presence, he fails to fully put his unique identity on it as it relies on nostalgia done by others. This then turns the last act into a mess with non-stop pop culture references plus the endless battle for control of Oasis becoming boring.

Whilst providing a visual feast, ‘Ready Player One’ is a lesser entry in Spielberg’s film catalogue. Had it been handled by another director who doesn’t have the weight of high expectations, the film may have been better. It offers a lot of surface thrills, but underneath the CGI, ‘Ready Player One’ has little to sustain the nostalgic longevity it lovingly displays.

Rating out of 10: 6

Love, Simon

Based on Becky Albertalli’s novel, ‘Love, Simon’ is a breath of fresh air. For a long time, romance movies featuring gay characters have usually ended in heartbreak. While this ‘gay romantic tragedy’ genre has seen several films win praise and awards, it’s been frustrating not seeing a gay romance without the spectre of death hovering over characters. ‘Love, Simon’ ignores that awful device and goes for a simple coming of age romance. Although having a few gay clichés generally seen in American movies, it dares to offer brightness amongst the gloom of cinematic same-sex relationships.

Simon (Nick Robinson) is a closeted gay teenager attending high school. Although close to his parents Jack (Josh Duhamel) and Emily (Jennifer Garner), he hasn’t told them his secret. Whilst grappling with this issue, he begins an on-line connection with a fellow class-mate. The problem is this person goes under a codename with Simon left guessing as to who he may be. Aided by his friends, Simon attempts to discover his current crush and come out to his family.

Although walking a predictable path, ‘Love, Simon’ doesn’t have any false sincerity. Many of the situations and feelings Simon has ring true as he tries to solve his problems. Learning about love, betrayal and hope, Simon’s journey from the film’s beginning is interesting. Whilst occasionally indulging in the usual American sentimentality, the emotions the characters feel seem real. The performances are all solid with a great 80’s-style soundtrack capturing the bright days for which Simon longs.

Greg Berlanti directs with compassion, making ‘Love, Simon’ feel more personal than most. Berlanti ensures the comedy and drama are effectively mixed allowing the movie’s themes to clearly stand out. The concept of having a mystery for audiences to solve also enables them to remain invested in proceedings with the reveal not as easy as expected.

‘Love, Simon’ may be a little overlong and familiar, but it marks its territory amidst a glut of ‘gay romantic despair’ films. Its optimism makes it more daring than others and charts a unique course in the teen-angst genre. With marriage equality now a reality, hopefully the issues Simon faces will gradually fade with respectful acceptance being something all should learn.

Rating out of 10: 7