This is a hard movie for me to accurately assess. I bet it’ll be that way for a lot of people. Mostly the fans. Not just fans of Ready Player One, the book. I mean fans of literally everything .
Let me be clear. I’ve never read Ready Player One, although I have almost bought it every single time I’ve been in an airport bookstore. I just could never bring myself to do it. I have no idea what stopped me. Maybe the premise felt too good to be true, despite good reviews and friend recommendations. It promised too much to execute, like when your grandma tells you that she bought you a bunch of new video games, but it just ends up being one of those 100-games-in-one games for PC that you can get for $5 at Staples. Or maybe the premise felt like it was barraging my senses the same way a strip club does. We know you like titties, so here they are. Here they are in such high abundance and so gratuitously that you must question whether you ever even liked titties. I’m sorry to say titties so much, but whether you’re a fan or hater of RPO, I think you can understand how this is the movie equivalent of a bunch of titties (that’s the last time I’ll say it. I promise.)
Now, I have yet to say whether I liked the movie or not .Let me make this clear:
I loved this movie.
I knew I’d love this movie once I saw this in the trailer:
That being said, I don’t care to defend this movie, because I can’t. If you asked me why I liked it, all I could really muster is a caveman-like response of, “I liked seeing the stuff.” The stuff being the Terminator 2 reference, the Gears of War gun, the Akira bike – you know, the titties (sorry). Plot-wise and relationship wise, this movie should have left me as baffled as Wrinkle in Time, though Wrinkle in Time is a lot more garbage of a film. No, I’m not just taking an opportunity to knock Wrinkle in Time for no reason. I think they are both worth discussing together as male and female-centric hero stories respectively. This movie won’t land for everyone because of that. Not to say it’s a clear cut male/female issue, but at the risk of being hetero-normative, this is what you would call a “boy movie.” If you don’t like “boy movies” and “boy stuff,” I think the flaws will be much more apparent and unforgivable to you. Let me again be clear, I’m using terms like “boy stuff” as shorthand, not to say that girls can’t or shouldn’t like this type of movie. Nor am I saying “boy stuff” to mean penis and balls, but I digress.
Regardless of the fanboy-ism of it all, no one can knock the expert pacing in this movie. I had zero time to question plot elements in the moment. As a screenwriter I’m constantly watching movies aware of time, what page in the script we’re at, and which story beat we’re on. There was simply no time to do that under this movie’s blistering pace.
I’m not going to tell you if you should see this movie or not. I don’t need to do that. You’ve most likely already made your decision weeks ago (on that token, I highly suggest you go see Thoroughbreds starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke. Support great movies), but here two final points, one of which is the films most condemning moment.
It’s a Gundam!
Slight spoiler: As I stated before, I knew Gundam (RX-78 specifically) would be in the movie, but I never expected more than a cameo shot. That’s not the case here. What we get is a demo for a CGI Gundam movie. I’m talking about the fact that Gundam full on fights Mecha-Godzilla. Not just a punch or two. They have a battle. Now, it’s no Obi Won versus Anakin – it’s not 15 minutes – but its a big moment. I practically broke my girlfriend’s hand squeezing it from the excitement.
The only issue is that I don’t recall anyone screaming, “It’s a Gundam!” Shame. Shame.
Steven Spielberg Almost Got Away with It
It’s no doubt this is a male-fantasy story. That’s, in a nutshell, the big controversy over the book. Especially as women fight for better representation in film, these types of stories stick out as continuing the status quo. Now, I don’t have a problem with male-centric stories. I love them. The issue to me is that we need more female-centric stories so that we all get our jams. I could write a whole blog post on that alone, so forgive my very simplistic breakdown, especially on the RPO controvery. End of the day, let more female filmmakers into he fray and let’s see what we get, but please don’t stop making movies for 30-year-old boys like me.
Enter Steven Spielberg.
For the most part, this movie isn’t problematic in its handling of gender or its female characters UNTIL what I call the birthmark scene. If you’re someone who thinks all of this gender bologna is, well, bologna, don’t tune out just yet. The moment in question assaults everyone’s intelligence.
Let me set this scene up as quickly as possible. Parsival (Tye Sheridan AKA beat up Nick Jonas), our main character, meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) in the form of their avatars in the game. They have no idea what each other look like in the real life. As the movie progresses, they grow closer. Parsival’s friends bring up the fact that Art3mis could be anyone. She could be a fat, old guy. Parsival is understandably worried.
Then they finally meet and Art3mis is non other than Olivia Cooke. Jackpot, obvi. Right?
Well, no. Because Art3mis has a birthmark on her eye, so she thinks she’s hideous. A birthmark that, if anything, adds a unique sparkle to her already beautiful features. It’s essentially the same as putting glasses on the hot girl and calling her ugly. With one fell swoop of a birthmark, the character is weakened. The birthmark is irrelevant other than in that moment, so what does it do? Just makes Art3mis ugly, thus weaker? It’s a moment that, for me, is just plain stupid, but also brings up a lot of problematic qualities we see in female love interests. Worse of all, it could have easily been avoided.
A stronger decision would be to give Art3mis as much agency as Parsival. Wouldn’t she be just as worried that he could be a fat, old guy? I’d rather see them both have fun with the realization that they are both two attractive people. What luck! Or maybe she isn’t happy with how he looks. What a twist!
I assume the birthmark scene in the book, where it may play better since we can imagine the character as ugly without having to cast and look at an ugly person the entire time. After all, in Hunger Games Katniss is described as plain and unremarkable, not Jennifer Lawrence. We just don’t want to watch plain and unremarkable on the screen for 90 minutes so we put a slight birthmark on a an actress who is arguably one of the most stunning young women working today.
These problematic moments are worth thinking about, not just for societal implications, but for the story as well. Art3mis is a great characters outside of this one moment, so I don’t want to take away from the character as a whole, but I think pointing this out brings to light the bigger point outside of this film: Weak female characters make weak stories.
Forgive any typos, grammatical errors, or nonsensical things. Had to bang this one out quickly. Would love to hear your thoughts. Don’t be shy to comment or tweet at me.
Follow me on Twitter @joecabello
My podcast, The Joe Cabello Show comes out Wednesday on Itunes and Soundcloud.