“This Isn’t Just A Game. I’m Talking About Actual Life And Death Stuff…”
With The Post earlier this year garnering a wide flurry of Oscar nominations and a critical consensus which boarded on the side of rousing positivity, a return to form for director Steven Spielberg after the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The BFG was welcomed with open arms, and with only three months since its’ release here in the UK, Spielberg returns once again to the movie-fold with Ready Player One, a cinematic adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 science fiction adventure novel of the same name. Projected in 3D for its’ preview screening release, Spielberg’s latest primarily focuses on Tye Sheridan’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) Wade Watts, a slum-stricken teen who uses the environment of the OASIS, a virtual reality gaming platform created by Mark Rylance’s (Dunkirk) recently deceased James Halliday, to both escape his daily slumber and more importantly, to join many others in the hunt for three “Easter Eggs” left within the game by Halliday before his death which give the finder both riches beyond belief and the key to control of the entire OASIS itself. With pop culture references galore and an upbeat, heroic sensibility, Spielberg’s latest undeniably should work in the hands of a filmmaker renowned for popcorn delights, but with a brain scorching over-reliance on digital effects and a screenplay both absent of emotion and effective engagement, Ready Player One doesn’t work as a whole and is merely saved by individual elements which make it passable rather than thoroughly entertaining.
With an obvious social commentary regarding the nature and impact of modern technology, Spielberg’s movie mixes the subversive ideas within Cronenberg’s Existenz and Videodrome with a obvious love for the science fiction genre in its’ eye-watering levels of on-screen references, levels which makes The Cabin in the Woods look like a passing fling with its’ respective horror genre, but too a staggering amount which by the half-way point does become overly tacky and cheap. With an entire segment dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the set-piece is a real bottle spinner in regards to how one might respond, with my own personal obsession with Kubrick’s masterpiece resulting in a subverted distaste to seeing our on-screen heroes quickly pop through the Overlook Hotel, music cues and all, and instead making me think how I would rather be watching The Shining instead. With Ready Player One a movie which Spielberg himself has coined as the most difficult movie he’s worked on since Saving Private Ryan due to the staggering levels of visual effects, the CGI battle scenes really aren’t worth the time, particularly in a final act which boarders on George Lucas style dullness and a complete lack of character engagement when at least eighty percent of the film is spent inside the OASIS itself with digitally designed “avatars”. With Ben Mendelsohn once again resigned to Rogue One style typecasting as the film’s one-note central antagonist and a ear-scraping level of exposition heavy dialogue, Ready Player One certainly has more negative aspects than positive, and for a director who time and time again has proven that giant gargantuan science fiction spectacle is part and parcel of his day job, Spielberg’s latest annoyingly doesn’t hit the heavy heights we are all very much used to.
Overall Score: 4/10
“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.