I wish I was born in the 1980s. Whether it’s with film or music, I do appreciate what that decade has to offer. But can an entire movie, helmed by a genius filmmaker, handle all that greatness? I think it can. The highly anticipated fantasy adventure “Ready Player One” is the type of movie that’s made for the movie nerd inside all of us.
Set in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is an orphan living in “The Stacks.” Wishing desperately to escape from that dump, Wade has nowhere to go expect the OASIS. Co-created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), The OASIS is a virtual reality universe with endless possibilities, where anybody can escape from real life and be whoever they want. Wade discovers clues to find three keys hidden within the program to a hidden digital Easter egg that promises the winner full ownership of the OASIS if found.
Ernest Cline’s 2011 best-selling book has been described as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” meets “The Matrix.” It’s a book I always wanted to read, because it’s the kind of material I’m attached to. And who’s better to direct the adaptation than the man who’s basically responsible for creating the term “blockbuster:” Mr. Steven Spielberg? He’s my favorite director of all-time, and nearly all his movies made me who I am today. And who else could truly pull this off, since most of Spielberg’s movies are referenced in the original book? Because of this, “Ready Player One” was definitely one of my most anticipated movies of the year, and every trailer they put out increased my excitement even more. Will “Ready Player One” be one of my favorites of the year? No…but it’s still tons of fun enjoying the experience onscreen.
Spielberg hasn’t directed a huge movie like this in a long time. He’s done the standard drama flicks like “Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies,” “The Post” and others, but not a lot of them really showcased what he can do for a huge audience. In “Ready Player One,” you can tell that all of his efforts were in. Putting all this content together in a brisk 140-minute runtime is worth the hours spent. Cline adapted his book alongside screenwriter Zak Penn (“The Avengers”), and I know some who read the book that said some elements were left out, but, coming from someone never read it, that’s to be expected from book adaptations. Just from my perspective, it came off as engaging.
The film is also relevant to today’s standards. with people being attached to virtual realities simulations and letting people express who they are not just online, but in real life, and just enjoying real life while you still can. A lot of scenes take place in the OASIS, and I’m not lying when I say they were the best parts of the entire film. It does go back and forth between the OASIS and the real world, but the setting in the OASIS really kept my interest without becoming overbearing. The concept of the OASIS is fascinating, especially with the growing popularity of VR.
Sheridan’s likable performance as Wade was very good. On his adventure, Wade meets Samantha (Olivia Cooke, “Bates Motel”), another player in the OASIS, and there was some authentic chemistry between the two of them. Connecting as their avatars, Parzival and Art3mis, Sheridan and Cooke worked well together as “Gunters,” (“egg hunters,”) playing the game, and it made me care more about them.
And who’s the main bad guy to stop these kids? It’s always the evil corporate CEO dude played by Ben Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn is a talented actor known for playing the villain, such as in “Bloodline” or “Rogue One.” But that’s because he’s just so good at being one. This time, he’s Nolan Sorrento, and Mendelsohn brought out the hammy-ness in the role, but in a good way.
And I can’t forget to mention Lena Waithe (“Master of None”) as Aech, a friend of Wade and another Gunter, who had a fair share of entertaining moments.
There are tons of pop culture references throughout the film, as there should be. This wasn’t even going to be a problem for me, since the book is filled with them. Do all of them have a purpose? Not exactly, but as long as they’re not pushing it too hard, then it’s perfectly fine. If you’ve ever watched a movie or television show or played a video game in your entire life, they will sneak up on you so quickly, such as the DeLorean from “Back to the Future” or the titular robot from “The Iron Giant” showing up. Moments where you might say, “Did you see that?” or “I got that” will come up every ten minutes or so. My mind felt like it exploded, and the expression of my face was pure joy. And for a property that has a lot of ‘80s nostalgia, they didn’t shove it down your throat at any given chance. It wasn’t just content from the ‘80s, but through today’s generation.
The immersive action set pieces were well-constructed, matching with the surprisingly good visual effects work. There are two sequences that really stood out and aredefinitely some of my favorite scenes of the year so far: The crazy race that happens really early on in the movie and a sequence where they actually go into “The Shining,” which I thought was incredible and kept a huge grin on my face throughout.
John Williams is usually the go-to composer for Spielberg pictures, but not this time around. But Alan Silvestri’s score is very memorable. And because he’s known for doing the magnificent “Back to the Future” score, there is something reminiscent of that franchise in a few of his pieces. Adding to that, as someone who loves ‘80s, the soundtrack included some classic gems like Van Halen’s “Jump,” which opens the film.
There were definitely some issues with the film. There are a few characters that either don’t have anything resembling development, or are just pushed aside in the background. Two particular examples are Philip Zhao and Win Morisaki as Sho and Daito, respectively. T.J. Miller voicing the bounty hunter i-R0k also didn’t fit. The first act felt rushed, with most of it being explained through narration. And there wasn’t really anything that had an emotional weight to the story, in my opinion.
As someone who loves Spielberg, nostalgia and pop culture references at every corner, “Ready Player One” is highly entertaining. This is one of the more recent Spielberg movies that I can easily find myself re-watching in the future, and it makes me want to read the book. Is it up there with all the cinematic classics he’s done in the past like the “Indiana Jones” trilogy, “E.T.” or “Jurassic Park?” No, but it’s almost like a return of sorts to his making a satisfying blockbuster again, just like made a name for himself at the peak of cinema. This is a film for all the nerds and geeks out there.
Capturing all the fun and excitement our nostalgia in pop culture, “Ready Player One” will amuse many fans of Steven Spielberg making this adventurous adaptation one of his coolest films in years. Grade: B