Ready Player One swings for the fences and instead crushes it right out of the ballpark. It also lands a little bit short of the green at times too. Did I just make a baseball and a golf reference in the same statement? That’s okay. That’s more or less what this movie does. But it does not stop it from being the most exhilarating thrill ride of the year. And summer has not even started.
Based on Ernest Cline’s Ben-Hur of Pop Culture novel from 2011, this material resides in the only hands that can do it justice. Coming from such a ridiculously off-beat techno pulp novel that seems to be fueled from the 80s Spielberg era, it would be asinine for any other director to try to adapt this very tricky material.
Set in the (I’m not going to use the word dystopian because every other reviewer does it), I’ll just say The Bleak Ass Future of 2045. Reality is a bummer to suffer. Natural resources are down, the planet itself is eroding, but luckily there is an online virtual fantasy scape called The Oasis where pretty much the whole of humanity plugs into to escape the drudgery of life. We’re not too far away from that. Walk out onto a busy street and count how many people are head down in their cell phones. Ready Player One might not be a foregone conclusion, but it’s in the making.
The billionaire genius inventor of the Oasis, James Halliday has passed away and left a very particular Easter egg hidden somewhere within the realms of his vast creation. Whoever follows the clues, collect the keys, and acquires the Easter egg will inherit Halliday’s half a trillion dollar corporation, but also full control and creative dominion over the Oasis itself.
However this is not like the Sunday morning NPR crossword. If you want the egg you have to have studied his favorite time. The 1980s. And all of the movies, music, and video game minutae that goes with that fabulous decade of utter excess.
Needless to say because it’s a Spielberg film a group of plucky young kids take on the big bad side of corporate America in a bid to sustain a free system within the Oasis. Simply breathtaking things as well as corny indulgences accrue over the 2-hour 20-minute running time.
There’s really no reason to bury the lead. Ready Player One is the most technologically marvellous film since Jurassic Park. The avatars in the film are better than they are in the film Avatar. Spielberg and his band of digital wizards from Industrial Light & Magic have crafted an unbelievable phantasmagorical dimension that is obviously computer-generated, but rendered with such photorealistic acuity that it sizzles your eyeballs for every frame that it rockets across the silver screen.
When inside the Oasis, players can be anything, or anybody, and do virtually anything their little pop culture obsessed minds can concoct. Due to this freedom of experimentation and creativity, Spielberg’s camera can go places it’s never gone before. The camera floats, soars, crests, and at times weaves itself through undulating bodies in a zero gravity dance floor with visual panache, and the signature style that assures you that you’re in the hands of the master. There’s an unbroken tracking shot from when the hero Wade Watts, known as Parzival inside the Oasis, puts on his virtual goggles, and first enters into the realm. Like a digital cannonball, the camera launches us through seven or eight different example worlds that show people playing golf on different planets, battling hordes of demons with virtual weapons, and yes even ascending Mount Everest with the Caped Crusader in tow.
Speaking of Pop Culture, this movie redefines blink and you miss it. Off the top of my head, the things you will spot in include: Street Fighter, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Child’s Play, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Star Wars, Serenity, Pac-Man, Tears for Fears, Buckaroo Banzai, Purple Rain, Akita, Aliens The Iron Giant, OverWatch, RoboTech,Batman, Superman, Atari,- it simply does not stop. But at the same time, the filmmakers are somehow welcoming to every tier of nerd obsession. From newbie to basement dweller. Even if you don’t know what the hell Gundam is the movie never makes you feel bad for it. It opens up the toy box and says “Come on in and check this shit out!” It truly is sort of euphoric to see a badass girl holding the pulse rifle from Aliens and watching the digital digital counter drop to zero as she mows down enemies. There was one small moment towards the end when a special weapon appeared that I almost freaked out completely, then I realized it just meant I was very very very old.
The casting is spot-on especially for the leads. Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke who play Parzival and love interest Artemis have that believable hesitant young chemistry and there are solid supporting turns from Lena Waithe as Wade’s best friend, Aech and an acerbic and funny TJ Miller as a sort of Bounty Hunter for IOI. Innovative Online Industries. The boo hiss evil Corporation that wants to enslave The Oasis for its own fiduciary mania. They even have AT-ST’s shaped like the company logo.
High points have to go to Ben Mendelsohn who does an amazing job as the most Hands-On CEO in the history of film. He plays Nolan Sorrento the head of IOI and seems to be on an almost single-handed mission to subvert Halliday’s egg from the more rogue like “Gunters.” Combination of egg and hunters. Get it? Like Muggles? Forget it.
Proving once again that The Uncanny Valley can never be quite traversed, only bridged from time to time, the best special effect in this movie is the winning performance by Mark Rylance as James Halliday. The technical, Bill Gates like Willy Wonka of the story is played with the perfect amount of soul, and sweetness by Spielberg’s go to actor. Leaving behind his digital consciousness to help shepard people through the quest, often appearing as his avatar, The towering wizard Anorak. Halliday seems like he was really sad that he had to die and miss out on all this fun. Later in the film you’ll realize that what he really missed out on was companionship and love. Rylance carries these burdens, along with a prankster’s twinkle in a very sweet and moving performance that has tiny echoes of Gene Wilder’s benevolent candy man.
It is definitely flawed. No movie is perfect. Loyalists to the book might find too many things have changed, switched places, or been downright dropped, in order to favor the two hour plus thrill ride of the above-average Steven Spielberg Blockbuster Summer movie. Also because of the breakneck pace, we don’t get the character development necessary to truly embrace these characters. Everything comes together a little too nice and neat. Unlike the book, this is a bloodless affair. Not like the director can’t get his hands dirty. I mean there’s even a brief nuclear holocaust in this movie.
In the end, Spielberg and Ernest Cline joining forces is a joy to behold and hopefully this experience will denigrate the bullshit backlash that was built up by entitled toxic gatekeepers. They can take their manufactured reviews and Gamergate negativity and shove it up their comment section.
This is not Ready Player One the book, or even the movie. This is Ready Player One The Ride! And for 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s a scream. Steven Spielberg is back.