Ready Player One Review
Based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One drags us back into the Young Adult dystopia narrative. In this case (as rendered by Zak Penn and co-adapter Cline), the miserably overcrowded Columbus, Ohio in 2045 is the world we are asked to inhabit. There, we are introduced to Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). Wade lives the same life as millions of others: they’re all hooked on a virtual reality gaming console called the OASIS. Created by late tech genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the OASIS is a second existence that people spend hours jacked into.
The story here is a digitized version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The mad inventor has hidden clues to the three keys throughout the OASIS, and whoever finds all three inherits Halliday’s fortune and full control of the OASIS. Much of Ready Player One, and the reasons for Spielberg’s involvement, center around the ever-shifting nature and rules of the OASIS. At its heart, Ready is a film about a lovelorn teen boy looking for a connection. Wade’s gaming avatar, the sleek, tattooed, blonde-haired Parzival, longs to know the supercool Art3mis in real life. There, she is just plain ol’ cool Samantha (Olivia Cooke).
The first action showcase proves that Spielberg is still a master at blocking action scenes. Driving the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Parzival competes in an auto race with several others, including his friend Aech. He soon discovers the secret to beating the race and unlocking the first key, becoming the first name to appear on the “scoreboard.” From there, it’s on to the next world and the race for the next key. Wade and his OASIS friends face off against the forces of corporate evil, namely IOI. Ben Mendelsohn portrays Nolan Sorrento, leader of IOI and the sniveling face of adversity for the majority of the film.
The film runs at a meaty 140 minutes long, which feels just a bit overgenerous given the quality and amount of narrative on hand. Spielberg jams on the gas, flinging the viewer from real worlds to virtual ones and back again. As the trailers showed, the pop culture references in this film are relentless. The Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python and the Holy Grail makes an appearance; so does King Kong, Tracer from Overwatch, the Iron Giant, and scores of other characters and items from films and video games. While I could definitely understand this being tiring, I found it mostly enjoyable. The finale of the film definitely suffers from a tad much going on at once, but it never pulled me out of the film. Also, this film features the Glaive from Krull (a rad film, not a great film) and that’s just awesome.
Easily the highlight of this film was the setpiece for the second key. The heroes dive into a sly recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, bathing naked woman and all. My inner cinephile gasped with sheer delight as soon as the Overlook Hotel appeared onscreen. There, Wade’s best friend Aech (as the actor is a bit of a spoiler, I don’t wish to give them away here) runs afoul of the blood-gushing elevators. Aech runs into the twins, as well as the bathing naked woman in room 237. This time, the transformation of beautiful blonde to decaying crone is played for laughs. So it goes.
While the story does become a bit routine in its later stages, Spielberg’s masterful control of pacing, rhythm, dynamics, and tone keep the film from flying off the rails. Sheridan and Cooke are both extremely skillful and help keep the viewer jacked into the story as well. However, there’s a big difference between a film that is content to surf a wave of nostalgia and science fiction that utilizes yesterday’s nostalgia to create tomorrow’s nostalgia. Four of Spielberg’s previous films–A.I., E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Minority Report–sampled a multitude of screen classics and literary works. Ready Player One is definitely a more disposable version of those films; that doesn’t mean that it’s not also a complete blast.