Ready Player One Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Ernest Cline, Zak Penn
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: March 29, 2018
Ready Player One is pure madness. Steven Spielberg‘s latest film is an unrelenting barrage of pop culture references that will leave you broken, battered, and barely alive. It may be narratively thin, but the visuals are just so beautiful you won’t even care what’s going on. And as crazy as it sounds, the film manages to have some nice layers to it.
There is also a great underlying message that almost gets lost in the chaos, but somehow, Spielberg is able to bring it all together and give us one spellbinding feature of nostalgia. Check out my full review of the film below.
Based on the Ernest Cline novel of the same name, Ready Player One is set in the year 2044, where the world has been reduced to slum-like conditions due to overpopulation and climate change. In order to compensate for these drastic changes people live in “stacks,” trailers that are stacked on top of each other. While this may not be a suitable way to live, the future does offer a virtual escape to a world called the Oasis, a place where you can be anybody you want and do anything. Here you can climb Mount Everest with Batman, race against the iconic Batmobile and DeLorean, fight with Street Fighter, or pilot a Gundam.
But the Oasis has so much more to offer than dreams. Just before its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) died, he hid an Easter egg that can only be found by unlocking three keys. Whoever is able to find these keys and uncover the Easter egg would assume majority control over the Oasis, and basically the world.
Unfortunately, these keys aren’t just lying around and it’s impossible to find one. That is, until Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), whose avatar is named Parzival, finds one of the first clues. But his quest to find the other two will be perilous as Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a video game conglomerate and manufacturer of most virtual reality equipment and its CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) are also trying to find the egg and will execute any plan to get it. So it will be up to Parzival, Samantha aka Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aceh (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) to get the egg first.
Rylance and Simon Pegg offer some very charming performances as the co-creators of the Oasis. Their relationship is a key part of this film. As best friends, Pegg’s Ogden Morrow is a nice counter to Rylance’s Halliday. For it’s Ogden who tries to help Halliday have a social life outside the Oasis. But Rylance does much of the heavy lifting of the two. His steady performance as Halliday, whose greatness got in the way of him having any semblance of a normal life was eye-opening if not revealing.
On paper, Ready Player One is more madness than noisy chaos. While the charms of the infinite pop culture references from the book make its way into the film, it’s those same infinite amounts of pop culture references that make the film too much of a good thing. Avatars are racing against competitors who are driving cars such as the 1966 Batmobile, the Back to the Future DeLorean, and the Big Foot Monster Truck. The Iron Giant and the first generation Gundam are fighting MechaGodzilla. Hello Kitty can even be seen walking amongst comic book characters like Batman, the Joker, and Harley Queen. There are even a few surprising IPs that make an appearance, either by sight or just by mentioning.
As a result, the plot of the film suffers. Ready Player One is narratively thin at best. The film can’t quite figure out what it wants to be as it jumps from one tone to the next. It goes from the quest to a revolution to the heroine punishing herself for her father’s sins and the way she looks. A lot of how these events lead to the next is just a matter of convenience. However, the one thing that remains consistently fun is the group’s quest to find the egg before IOI. These quests have Wade trying to solve three riddles, riddles that have them work together by watching movies and visiting famous film settings. With each and every new key, a new door to adventure opens, thus bringing out Spielberg’s true strengths.
So though the script may be on the weaker side, the film relies on the visuals, the performance of the cast, and Spielberg’s direction. Director of Photography Janusz Kamiński offers audiences a chance to dive into a multi-layered world that is rich with colors and textures. While it may look like a fantasy, it’s very tangible. So much so it feels too real.
Perhaps that is the irony of the film. In its self-awareness, Ready Player One offers its audiences a message about the dangers of escaping reality, the obsessions of pop culture, letting greatness and creation blind you from friendships and basic human interaction. The refreshing part of it all is that Spielberg isn’t afraid to target his own films like Jurassic Park to make that point. Though it may be a little hard to see and get the message in the eye of the pop culture storm that is constantly swirling.
But that was always a part of the book’s charm, and not carrying that over to the film would not be true to it. So we are inundated with a plethora of references from the ’80s, video games, movies, and TV shows. The casual filmgoer may not understand some of those references. But for those who are a fan of pop culture or just the book in general, I think they are going to have to see the film more than once because those same references are coming at you at a rapid-fire pace.
Ready Player One isn’t an easy film to sit through, especially when it doesn’t know when to stop. But it is a film that deserves to be watched on the biggest screen possible. A lot of the fun comes through the inside visuals and the adventurous quest of finding Halliday’s Easter egg. Though there may not be much of a plot to it, the cast is able to deliver some solid performances, and with Spielberg at the helm, there is a heartwarming message that hits too close to home. So in this time where we can become blind to everything that is fun and wild, the film teaches us that sometimes it is nice just to sit back and see that the great thing about reality is that it is real.