Ready Player One comes off as an effort by Spielberg to return to his prime. After dipping his toes in some lower budget (but good) offerings, he’s back with another movie worthy of the title he helped create all those years ago: the summer blockbuster. And by all means, it feels like one.
Ready Player One takes place in 2045, in a world where everybody uses virtual reality as a means to escape the horrible state their place is in. Where do they go? The OASIS. A virtual reality created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a visionary of the highest order. Before his passing, Halliday sent out a message to the world informing everybody of a hidden easter egg. Whosoever finds the egg, will gain total ownership of the OASIS. The key to finding the egg? 3 Keys, each with their unique clues pointing to their location.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is just another teenager who, just like everybody else in the OASIS, is an active “Gunter” (Egg hunter). In the virtual space though, he’s known as Parzival. Partnering up with him is Aech, another Gunter with whom Wade’s made friends with. Together, Parzival and Aech spend their time trying to, just like most others, find the keys. In one such race to find the first key, the duo meet Art3mis (Olivia Cook), another gunter who’s pretty famous in the Oasis. Together they must find the egg and in the process, overthrow the evil Innovative Online Industries, or IOI, in order to bring balance to the universe. Okay, scratch that. But you get the idea.
Heading the (kinda) villainous IOI is its CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). While Nolan may come off as kind of a one-dimensional antagonist, he’s played well enough by Mendelsohn. This adds a little bit of uniqueness to the character. But the real star (or rather, anti-star) of the film is i-R0k, played by…wait for it… T.J Miller! While not a chief character in the story, or even an important one, i-R0k proves to be a much more entertaining watch than the maniacal Sorrento. Watch out for him.
Ready Player One is littered with pop culture references and easter eggs. Every so often you’ll find someone or something, which you might recognize from another intellectual property. Be it Batman, or the Iron Giant, or King Kong, or Tracer (from Overwatch fame). You know, the little things. In that regard, one can only wonder how Spielberg managed to obtain the rights to feature these characters, much less pull it off in a spectacular fashion. I do agree that it can be a bit too much for the absolute casual viewer. As a person who’s well versed in the modern film and video game culture, I had a blast enjoying all these character cameos.
In a film filled to the brim with such CG madness, you wouldn’t be wrong in worrying whether you’ll feel lost before stepping inside the theater. And you’d be right in your concern. The movie does look like a video game, but that’s because it’s supposed to. These are characters who are leaving reality for some fun escapism. The obvious metaphor here is directed towards the modern climate of video game consumerism. So don’t think too hard about it if you find yourself relating to these characters, or at the very least their situation.
Performance wise, everybody here gets a pass. You shouldn’t expect anything Oscar-worthy here, except maybe the visual effects and the production design. Sheridan’s a good lead, Cook is charming, and Mendelsohn has a nefarious presence. Oh, and did I mention TJ Miller? Did I? Yeah, he’s great too. Simon Pegg is always a nice treat, and Mark Rylance paints a rather intriguing picture of the OASIS creator that is Halliday.
But the real star of Ready Player One, even if he’s not on-screen, is Spielberg. His dedication to bringing pure joy in the art of filmmaking is on full display here. No one can stage an action scene quite like him, and it shows. From the opening sequence to the epic third act, Spielberg holds a command over his characters, unlike any other director. It’s so large, so ambitious, that the only film I can imagine to top it is the soon to be released Avengers: Infinity War.
So how can the film be described? An action movie baked in mystery. The film follows our leads trying to find the answers to the clues in Halliday’s memories, which are stored in the OASIS. This gives way to a straightforward three-act structure. Simple, and sweet. The only downfall of this and the rest of the movie are the half-baked characters. Who is Art3mis? No idea. What’s Wade’s deal? Prepare to get a clichéd backstory for him. These are some of the negatives which stop the film from achieving the greatness that it deserves.
So, bottom line: Is it worth all the hype? Heck yes. It definitely is. Even if the characters are a bit too thin for my taste, even if the film relies a bit too much on visual effects, it undoubtedly is a fun time. And as a love of everything film or video game related, it was a blast to spot all the Easter eggs and references. Spielberg’s back, and that’s what gives me hope for the next wave of entertaining action films (looking at you, Infinity War).
After all, what other movie is gonna give you the bike from Akira & the DeLorean time machine from Back To The Future in the same scene?