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Here’s What Critics Are Saying About Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ready Player One. Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One screened for the first time at SXSW on Sunday, with Spielberg introducing his latest movie, which he was careful to distinguish should not be considered a film. Whatever you call it, critics’ responses to Spielberg’s adaptation of the novel by Ernest Cline were overwhelmingly positive, praising the music, energy, and visuals and hailing it as a “rollicking adventure.”

Here’s what else the first reviews and reactions had to say.

People Sure Like This Steven Spielberg Guy

Eric Kohn, IndieWire:

Never, ever underestimate Steven Spielberg. That’s the biggest takeaway from Ready Player One, an immersive sci-fi spectacle about a future overrun by virtual reality gaming that the world’s most famous commercial director has transformed into a mesmerizing blockbuster steeped in callbacks to the best of them. It runs too long and drags a bunch in its final third, but make no mistake: This is Spielberg’s biggest crowdpleaser in years, a CGI ride that wields the technology with an eye for payoff. 

As Expected, References to the ’80s (and Beyond) Abound

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

Early on, there’s a shoot-the-works car chase in which Wade — or, rather, his avatar, Parzival, who resembles a frosted-blond, plane-cheeked Keanu Reeves in a jean vest — climbs into the wing-doored DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future and races through a cityscape at petal-to-the-metal speed to the tune of Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” even as he’s pursued by King Kong and the T. Rex from Jurassic Park. (Blink and you’ll miss the Batmobile.)

There Were Technical Difficulties at the Screening. Cue the Jokes!

The Movie Managed to Win Over a Few Skeptics

Not Everyone Was Charmed by the Spectacle, However

The Heavy Special Effects Pay Off

Joi Childs, SlashFilm:

It is a pleasant surprise to see how the CGI does not cut corners, effectively giving us an enthralling world for most of the film. And because these are virtual world avatars we’re taking about, they do not have to be realistic, but sharp: it needs to look like a video game. The avatar movements, action and dialogue carries the film and is a standout in all the best ways.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

Years ago, the words “Spielberg” and “fantasy” went together like “ice” and “cream,” or maybe “Citizen” and “Kane,” and one of the reasons for that is that Spielberg grounded fantasy (even the spectacular extraterrestrial visitation of Close Encounters) in the nitty-gritty of the real world. That’s what made his fantasies magical.

Yet ever since he became more of a serious, real-world dramatic filmmaker, Spielberg seems to have dichotomized reality and fantasy in his thinking. Ready Player One isn’t an obnoxiously flashy and hollow indulgence, like Speed Racer or last year’s live-action Ghost in the Shell. It’s an accomplished and intermittently hypnotic movie. Yet you may feel like you’re occupied more than you are invested.

Be Prepared for Some Departures From Cline’s Novel. (Beware, Mild Spoilers Ahead.)

John DeFore, the Hollywood Reporter:

A rollicking adventure through worlds both bleak and fantastic, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One makes big changes to the specifics and structure of Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel but keeps the spirit and level-up thrills intact. With Cline as a screenwriter alongside Zak Penn, it’s not surprising that while some of the book’s dorkier elements are excised—sorry, Rush fans!—their replacements display similar pop-culture obsessiveness while lending themselves more to the cinematic gifts of the man Cline surely dreamed would adapt the book. Gamers are far from the only ones who will respond to this virtual-world-set picture, which strikes an ideal balance between live action and CGI.

Eric Kohn, IndieWire:

In Cline’s book, a lethal twist leads the character into a bleak, solitary chapter of his life that Spielberg’s too earnest to touch; instead, the movie becomes a triumphant tale of gamers taking charge on the battlefield. Ready Player One wants to make people who love its references celebrate them all over again.

All in All, It’s a Crowd Pleaser—Though It Might Depend on the Crowd