7.5 out of 10
Tye Sheridan as Parzival / Wade
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Ready Player One Review:
This film is based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline.
In the year 2045, the real world has progressively gone downhill. Famines, riots, and corporate greed have beaten down the masses. Their main escape from reality is a virtual world called the OASIS. Developed decades earlier by James Halliday, the VR environment allows users to do anything they want and be anything they want. And since Halliday was a child of the ’80s and a fan of pop culture, his virtual world is filled with references to the movies, music, games, and comics he loved.
Like any other kid, Wade Watts finds his escape in the OASIS. Orphaned at a young age and living with his aunt, he spends most of his time in VR as his character Parzival. But his world is changed when Halliday dies and leaves one last game for the inhabitants of the OASIS to play. Before his death, he hid three keys somewhere in the virtual world. Whoever finds them first will take ownership of the OASIS and Halliday’s fortune. Thus begins the greatest treasure hunt of all time. But for Wade to find the keys and win the contest, he’s going to need a little help from his online friends.
Ready Player One is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.
When Ready Player One hit book stores in 2011, I picked it up, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory mixed with The Matrix mixed with a comic convention. I shared it with my wife and kids who all loved it as well. Then to discover that Steven Spielberg was going to adapt it seemed like a fanboy dream come true. Now having seen the final product, I’m happy to say that the film captured the heart and soul of the book which made it so enjoyable.
Ready Player One is most notable for the insane number of pop culture Easter eggs and references. Some of them you have seen in the trailers, like the Back to the Future car, the Iron Giant, King Kong, and more. But those are really just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many, many more in a pop culture orgy the likes of which hasn’t been seen since The LEGO Movie. Half of the fun is discovering them for yourself, so I won’t spoil them here, but suffice it to say that something you love has a cameo in the film. It will take multiple viewings to catch them all and it is the kind of movie you’re going to want to get on Blu-ray and watch frame by frame. You simply can’t take it all in on one viewing.
I did have a concern that all of the gratuitous Easter eggs would be too in-your-face, but many of them are surprisingly understated. A big deal is never made about the Back to the Future time machine. Parzival simply makes it appear and jumps in it. Famous characters simply walk in the screen in the background and immediately disappear without fanfare. Because of this, the movie always dances along the line of being too much without totally crossing over it.
The animation is also excellent. The design of the avatars is a lot of fun and you can tell the imaginations of the creators ran wild. It’s a world where you can easily see mankind being drawn into it. I did not get a chance to screen it in 3D, but I’m going to make a point to go back to the theater and see it in IMAX 3D, because this is exactly the kind of film that can be enhanced by the effect.
I was really impressed by the cast of Ready Player One. Olivia Cooke has a breakout performance as Art3mis. She’s tough and outspoken in the virtual world yet shy and self-conscious in the real world. Cooke is immediately likable in the role and it’s easy to see why Wade Watts and the audience fall for her. Tye Sheridan is also great as Parzival / Wade. As he fawns over ’80s pop culture and James Halliday, Sheridan’s sincerity totally sells it. He’s a great “everyman” that geeks can relate to. Mark Rylance, Spielberg’s new “go-to” actor (sorry, Tom Hanks), is also excellent Anorak / Halliday. He’s socially awkward, yet likable at the same time. He feels like the kind of mad genius that would come up with a revolutionary VR world and populate it with pop culture references. As for the rest of the cast, Ben Mendelsohn seems to enjoy being the villain in his role as Sorrento. Lena Waithe has a memorable performance as Aech / Helen and brings a lot of the comic relief, especially in the world of the OASIS. And though T.J. Miller is paying the price in the real world for his inappropriate behavior, he does bring laughs as the online villain I-R0k.
On the music front, Alan Silvestri provides a memorable score. It is not only filled with subtle call backs to memorable movie themes, but he provides a lot of original orchestrations as well. Whether it’s a sense of wonder or tension, his music enhances every scene.
In short, Ready Player One is just dumb fun. While I enjoy Steven Spielberg’s more serious films, I do enjoy seeing him be a kid again and just have a cinematic play date with the audience. It’s not his best work, but it is a fun popcorn flick and a great free-for-all of pop culture that only someone with his Hollywood muscle could pull together.
What Didn’t Work:
As enjoyable as Ready Player One is, it does have issues. First of all, with the exception of the pop culture cameos randomly appearing, it is predictable. Even without reading the book, you can probably predict every beat of the plot of the film. There are no twists or turns coming that you can’t see from a mile away. That’s OK. It’s the equivalent of cinematic comfort food, but it does not elevate the film.
While I found the pop culture references and cameos to be enjoyable, I could easily see many audiences turned off by the sheer onslaught of them. The screen is absolutely saturated by them. If you don’t get them or feel it’s forced, then you’ll be turned off by this film. But then again, maybe it wasn’t for you to begin with. I do feel that it could be a valid criticism of this movie.
For all the fantastic things that happen in this film, Ready Player One does carry a degree of realism in it. So when it does venture into certain unrealistic areas, it feels out of place. For example, as Sorrento and his goons hunt down Wade and his friends, the levels they go to seem unrealistic. Even in this bleak future, murder seems like something you won’t get away with, even if you are an evil corporation. And that same evil corporation imprisons their customers in indentured servitude. That doesn’t seem realistic for 27 years in the future no matter how much you dislike Trump now. Everything else in this film felt like it was within the realm of possibility.
If you’re a fan of Simon Pegg, be warned that he’s barely in the movie as Ogden Morrow. It’s kind of a disappointment that he’s not used more, but he does rock a pretty good American accent in the role.
The Bottom Line:
If you’ve ever attended a comic convention or a played an online video game, then Ready Player One is required viewing for you. If you simply want to watch a popcorn flick with a lot of action and special effects, then I think you’re a prime candidate to enjoy this movie. But if you could care less for pop culture and the ’80s, then I recommend you stay far away from Ready Player One. This wasn’t made for you.