Ready Player One is a reminder of why I love going to the movies. Steven Spielberg turns Ernest Cline’s novel into a gripping visual bombardment, dazzling theatergoers for two hours with off-the-rails action sequences and a nonstop machine-gun blast of pop-culture references. Cline’s book focuses primarily on the 1980s, but the film (which Cline co-wrote) opens the floodgates to incorporate all decades of geekdom, including things you may have just fallen in love with, such as Overwatch. I’m willing to bet it is the only place where you’ll see Hello Kitty sharing screen time with Freddy Krueger. The film ends up being silly in the best possible way – you can’t help but laugh through most sequence, even if they do carry a deeply troubling warning about the world we live in today.
The focus of the film is a simple one to grasp: The world and its resources are in rough shape, but people don’t seem to mind since they can enter virtual reality to escape it all. Everyone is joined together in a virtual world called Oasis, created by tech wizard James Halliday. In Oasis you can be anyone and can do anything, as long as you have the virtual currency to play for it. Some people create their own looks. Others walk around as characters they adore, like RoboCop. The film follows an orphan named Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) who is down on his luck, yet appears to be extremely gifted at many things in Oasis. We learn he’s been trying to win a contest created by Halliday. If one of Oasis’ users completes three mysterious challenges, which will unearth three keys, that person will be receive immense wealth. More importantly, they’ll become the sole owner and ruler of Oasis. People have been hunting for the keys for years, yet they haven’t found anything other than a race no one has been able to finish. Theatergoers are treated to an intimate view of this race, which Wade attempts. This race is beautifully shot, delivering a barrage of carnage across jumps and bridges that just may feature hazards like King Kong and a T-Rex from Jurassic Park. This sequence establishes Ready Player One as something different; a film that doesn’t adhere to any rules – just satisfying mayhem.
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Wade (who goes by Parzival) in Oasis, eventually figures out one of Halliday’s riddles and the chase to find the keys is on. This “quest” is fun to follow, and Spielberg does a great job of making you care about the human characters just as much as the CG geek fest. Parzival becomes intertwined with a woman named Artemis (Olivia Cooke), both on the quest and romantically. We see their relationship begin to take hold in Oasis, but will it hold in the real world? That’s a question Ready Player One teases theatergoers with, and it ends up having a great payoff. The film also has a strong villain in Nolan Sorrento, who is played brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn. It turns out, Spielberg knows what he’s doing when putting a movie together.
Some of the video game references, which are tied to central plot points, are surprisingly deep cuts. I probably got more out of them than most theatergoers, but that’s part of what makes this film so much damn fun. There are references all over the place, and I bet I didn’t see 60 to 70 percent of them. This is one of those films that you’ll want to watch frame by frame, just to see how many pop-culture references are included.
Just go see this damn movie. I had a blast watching it. Sure, I can nitpick little plot points or CG sequences, but what’s the point? The fun in this movie trumps its blemishes. Don’t go into it expecting a deeply moving piece. Just expect to be dazzled by decades of awesome, geeky things.