When Ready Player One was announced, I was a little skeptical. Though I’ve never read the popular Ernest Cline novel of the same title, the film seemed like the perfect corporate move to jam in every product placement ever. After I saw The Emoji Movie, I guess I became a little more cynical about a movie’s ulterior motives. However, when I read that Steven Spielberg was directing, I was 100% on board.
This is the guy who basically created most of everything I’m a fan of. I know it’s a cliche answer to say that Spielberg is my favorite filmmaker, but he genuinely is. I grew up watching his films, and even though many of them came out way before I was born and lived past their immediate cultural impact, Spielberg’s films never failed to captivate my imagination. I remember thinking the shark from Jaws was real when I first saw it. I was afraid to go into the ocean for years after I saw it at a very young age. I remember rolling rocks down hills and having action figures run away as fast as they could just like the famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I remember hoping that I’d one day find an alien friend and help him/her get back to his/her planet just like they did in E.T.. I remember crazily telling people when I was very young that dinosaurs could in fact be brought back to life just because I believed the ones in Jurassic Park were real. This is a director who doesn’t just create movies; he forges worlds, breathing life into every detail. Naturally, I was very excited when he was announced as the director for Ready Player One.
The film is set in 2045 and follows a kid named Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan. In the future, overpopulation has gotten to a point where people are living in small spaces and are crammed in makeshift buildings. James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance), the lead game designer for Gregarious Simulation Systems, creates the Oasis, a Virtual Reality game filled with limitless possibilities. In a grim world, this game allows people to escape harsh realities and become whoever they want to be. However, when Halliday dies, he creates a quest for every player in the game: find a hidden Easter Egg by finding three keys. The first one to the egg inherits half of Halliday’s fortune (a whopping half trillion dollars) and complete control over the Oasis. As his in-game avatar, Parzival, Wade sets out to find the keys along with his in-game friends Art3mis (played by Olivia Cooke), and Aech (Lena Waithe). However, as Parzival and his friends travel throughout the Oasis, the CEO of IOI, the second biggest company next to Gregarious, Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn) attempts to get the keys for himself so that his company could rule the Oasis, which has now become the world’s biggest economic resource.
The film makes it very clear that it’s being controlled by a master of grand spectacle. Spielberg films every action scene with a frenetic, breathless pace, zooming the audience from place to place. The scenes in the Oasis somehow feel grounded despite its cartoonish atmosphere. You almost feel transported to this place just like Wade, and you learn to get excited every time he puts on his VR headset. However, that attachment to the Oasis comes with problems, and I’ll get into that later. While the beginning features plenty of exposition, it quickly pulses into a thrilling racing sequence featuring many iconic movie and game characters.
There lies the divide on this movie. I’ve read a couple of reviews, and many of them focus on the nostalgia. People either loved it or hated it, and I personally loved it. Yes, the movie is basically nostalgia porn, and it’s packed to the brim with references to pop culture icons like King Kong, The Iron Giant, Jurassic Park, Halo, Overwatch, and Batman (and yes… even a small nod to Star Wars, although don’t get your hopes too high for it). Parzival’s vehicle is a Dolorean from Back to the Future, and Art3mis’s bike is the famous red bike from Akira. If you know your film/video game references, it heightens the experience. I understand why some critics don’t like this approach to filmmaking, but I don’t Spielberg intended Ready Player One to be one of his Oscar-bait dramas along the lines of Bridge of Spies and most recently The Post. Audiences speak with their wallets, and pop-culture and retro-nostalgia are two things that sell very well. Many of the references are actually of Spielberg’s films, which is a little on the nose, but I liked it. My favorite scene in the film is one of the best examples of nostalgia I’ve seen in a film. It revolves around The Shining and can actually be quite frightening if you haven’t seen the Kubrick masterpiece already. If you don’t understand the references, that’s okay because you still have a adventure about a guy on a quest to find keys.
As far as acting is concerned, everyone gives it their all. I mean, who wouldn’t if you’re working with someone like Spielberg? Tye Sheridan gives a pretty good performance, and definitely sells the whole awkward teen vibe. Mendelsohn is clearly having a lot of fun playing the villain just like he clearly did in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Everyone in the supporting cast does a great job at adding their own quirks to their characters. However, I think Cooke steals the spotlight here especially considering she doesn’t have too much to work with on the surface. Her performance feels multifaceted, and while she’s determined to take down Sorrento, there’s still this vulnerability deep down because of her growing affection for Wade and tragic past.
Now I’m going to delve into my issues with the film. I don’t have much, but still. Firstly, as I mentioned before, I found myself becoming increasingly excited every time Wade put on the headset. This is mainly due to the events back in the real world, which can sometimes drag. I understand that the movie’s point is to juxtapose the real world and the Oasis, but the film’s message in my opinion goes against what they’ve shown. The theme of the film is the best thing about reality is that it’s real, which makes sense, but I didn’t see much in the real world that made me look on the bright side besides the romantic subplot between Parzival and Artem3s (whose real name is Samantha).
Wow, that’s a great segue, I’m proud of that. There’s an extremely rushed romantic subplot that pays off in the end, but has a jarring way of getting there. Parzival and Art3mis meet each other towards the beginning, and Parzival quickly falls in love with her and tells her only a few days in. This is a little weirdly placed because when Wade and Samantha actually meet for the first time, they don’t look like full on lovers. They actually act awkwardly and I could see the romance blossom from there. Maybe this is a positive because as someone who spent years playing World of Warcraft in my early teenage years, I could relate. If I had met any of my friends in the game in real life, I too would have probably acted completely different than my character because I was just a very socially awkward person back then. It’s just interesting that the film establishes Wade loves Art3mis, but he takes it rather slow with Samantha. Maybe I’m just ranting, but I’d love to hear your opinion on this.
I’m gonna end the review on a high note and say the score is amazing. Alan Silvestri’s score takes little themes from classic popular themes, but he infuses his own score’s riffs. The song list used is very 80’s retro, but I loved it.
Regardless of its flaws, Ready Player One is Steven Spielberg’s return to big screen spectacle, delivering on high expectations and sprinkling its own sense of movie magic throughout. While it’s not entirely without flaws with its rushed romantic subplot and somewhat confusing ending, it’s jam packed with exciting action, heartfelt moments, and the most pop culture references I’ve seen in a film. It’s about as nerdy as it gets, but Spielberg proves that nerdy can make for a really fun film.
So that’s my review of Ready Player One! What do you think of the movie, and where do you think it stands in Spielberg’s filmography? Feel free to let me know in the comments section. Thanks!