Ernest Cline’s 2011 bestselling novel Ready Player One is filled with 80’s pop culture references and easter eggs. Who better to direct the adaptation than the man who helped define film in the 1980’s – Steven Spielberg.
Set in 2045 Columbus Ohio, the virtual reality world OASIS is where most of humanity spends their time. When the creator of OASIS dies, he leaves a challenge for all the OASIS users – complete three hidden challenges and find the Easter Egg. The winner will inherit his fortune and control over OASIS.
A kid named Wade (Tye Sheridan) solves the first challenge, putting him his crew first on the leader board and on their way to having control of OASIS.
Meanwhile, a giant corporation called IOI (pronounced eye-oh-eye) wants full control of OASIS for financial gain. Their CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) uses all his resources – including his “indentured servitude” division – to try and stop Wade and complete the challenge before he does.
Wade and Sorrento race to complete the quest and gain control of OASIS.
If it’s not apparent from the trailer, most of the film is spent inside OASIS. As great as cast is, a lot of their screen time is voicing a CGI avatar. Wade’s avatar is Parzival and his crew consist of the love interest Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke), his best friend Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe), and this two pals Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki)- Wade has never met these people outside the OASIS.
Sorrento’s avatar is the perfect representation of an evil CEO. He looks like Vince McMahon in the early WWE video games.
Ready Player One is an 80’s movie that panders to things about the 80’s that people love. From the DeLorean Wade uses to the numerous avatars in the OASIS, Ready Player One is a love letter to an entire decade of pop culture. Audiences can spend hours playing Nerd Bingo trying to spot all the outright references an subtle nods. Spielberg and writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline do an excellent job of not making the references feel like fan service and more like a film that’s 100% self aware.
The plot is a straight forward narrative that’s been plucked out of every 80’s movie. – a kid has to complete three quests to win, outsmart the evil corporation, and hopefully get the girl. It nails all the 80’s tropes all the way down to the love interest and Wade being completely clueless as to what’s happening.
What makes this such a fun watch is how visually engaging it is. It’s an eye-popping masterpiece from beginning to end. The opening race challenge is exhilarating and a great way to start this journey. After that sequence, audiences will have a good feel for what this movie is about.
The second challenge is easily the best sequence in the film. It involves one of the best horror films ever made. There are plenty of laughs for those who haven’t seen the movie and tons of inside jokes for those who have.
For all of the breathtaking visuals and incredible chase sequences, the story does casually touch on some themes happening in our current internet culture – people hiding who they truly are, the value of experiencing life outside the internet, corporate greed and their eagerness to monetize everything, and the ability to make real friends in a virtual space.
Mendelsohn as the diabolical Sorrento may be the best thing about Ready Player One. He’s a character cut out of an 80’s movie and dropped into 2018. He’s the kind of hateful antagonist a movies like these need. Sorrento’s interactions with his muscle Zandor (Black Mirror’s Hannah John-Kamen) are a delight and show just how cruel and despicable he is.
The one major issue is the characters are a little flat. Spielberg is known for showcasing characters audiences care about or feel attached to. The film doesn’t spend enough time with them to help build the attachment most of Spielberg’s films have. The real magic of this story is its ability to keep audiences engaged in the journey the characters are on, even if they don’t care about the characters themselves.
Ready Player One is visual masterpiece and a nostalgia roller coaster for 140 mins. The incredible score by Alan Silvestri is the soundtrack that makes the nostalgia even that much more fun. The story being wrapped in pop culture and video game references won’t stop people who aren’t into it from enjoying the ride. There’s enough here for everybody to love.