Will “Ready Player One” Be as Bad as Everyone Expects it to Be?

Matthew Loffhagen
Warner Bros
(Photo: Warner Bros)

The internet has pretty much already made up its mind about “Ready Player One”.

This movie, by all accounts, is a shallow, cynical attempt to co-opt online meme and reference culture to try to win street cred without the effort of making a genuine story.

People online have been trashing the book by Ernest Cline, and with every new trailer for the upcoming Steven Spielberg comes a wave of annoyed, snarky backlash from those who apparently are too smart to be suckered in by this pop-culture mash-up.

If movie is nothing more than a string of references, then what’s the point in bothering to see it?

It’s hard to argue that this film isn’t a little on the derivative side. In a literal sense, everything in the story is lifted from a novel of the same name, and part of the reason for signing Steven Spielberg to direct is to get him to remix his own greatest hits, along with a bunch of as many other properties as Warner Bros has been able to get the rights to.

That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a cultural product is completely without merit. Sometimes, a rehash of older ideas can perfectly strike a chord with audiences and define a generation.

Such is the case with “Star Wars”; a movie that’s built out of tropes and iconography from a bygone era. The movie is nostalgia distilled. The same is true of anything by Quentin Tarantino, albeit with more swearing.

There’s a great video essay by Kirby Fergusson called “Everything’s a Remix” which goes into how works like “Ready Player One” are the rule, rather than the exception. Your very favorite movie or book or song probably has its roots in other cultural touchstones, because that’s kind of how creativity works.

“Ready Player One” goes further than most of these remixes by actually littering its world with recognizable icons from pop culture history. In this regard, its closest equivalent is probably “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, a movie (that Spielberg produced) that mashes together classic animated characters for a noir movie that’s actually, weirdly, about racism and bigotry.

There are big, complex themes in this movie, that are achievable in large part because of the simple, easy to understand shorthand provided by dropping in a quick Betty Boop appearance to symbolize how aging stars in this world are treated poorly.

If “Ready Player One” manages to do something worthwhile with its pop-culture references; if they serve some greater thematic purpose; then this film could actually turn out to be surprisingly good.

There’s still a definite chance that this movie might be worth watching.

That said, you probably already decided whether it was for you the moment some Spartans from “Halo” dashed across the screen, didn’t you?