You’ll notice that with most of my reviews, I like to start with a confession about myself. For this one, I must admit that I am insanely jealous of Ernest Cline. He is the author of “Ready Player One”, the novel that the new movie is adapted from. Mister Cline wrote a story in which a young man modeled after himself enters a virtual world, where he must defeat an evil corporation, as he fights alongside an army of popular culture characters. And while the corporation has strength in numbers, the protagonist is armed with superior pop culture knowledge and video game playing skills. The novel went on to be a New York Times bestseller, and Cline co-wrote the screenplay to the movie, which went on to be directed by the God among us mere mortals that is Steven Spielberg. Yeah, needless to say, Cline is living the best version of my life that I could ever imagine.
My envy aside, this movie is classic Spielberg; well directed and full of heart from start to finish. For those of you who haven’t read the book, the story follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teenager who lives in “The Stacks” (it’s a trailer park, but with the trailers stacked on top of each other) in Ohio. It is the year 2045, and the entire population prefers to spend their entire time within The Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, or OASIS, a virtual environment that is limited only by pure imagination. However, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the creator of OASIS, has died. And he has left his entire fortune in the form of a series of riddles for all the users of OASIS to solve. If that wasn’t enough, there’s Innovative Online Industries, IOI, an even more evil version of Comcast, who want total control of the OASIS for itself, so they can create pricing tiers (hence the Comcast reference). Wade, under the guise of Parizel (the knight that found the Holy Grail), attempts to solve the riddles, and does so with the help of his best friend, Aech (as in literally “H”, played by Lena Waithe), and teammates Daito and Sho (Win Morisaki and Philip Zhao). But Wade also falls in love with the charismatic Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and if that weren’t enough, he’s being targeted by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO of IOI, and his army of bounty hunters known as The Sixers (due to their six-digit long serial numbers that always begin with the number 6).
Minutes into the movie, you know you’re in for a fun time. The pop culture references are plentiful, from movie monsters, to slasher movie villains, to a whole lot of DC heroes and villains, to video game characters from the past 25 years. Spotting all these references is half the delight of the movie. The CGI is top notch, which is refreshing in these days of half-assed, unfinished animation in most blockbuster movies. The music score by Alan Silvestri is one of his best since “Back to the Future”, and it never overpowers the images on screen. Olivia Cooke is the MVP of the cast, as she makes Art3mis, and her real life alter ego, Samantha Cook, incredible fun and loveable. Ben Mendelsohn also makes for a great villain, in a performance that’s far superior than the one he gave in “Rogue One”. And as someone who has read the book, yes, liberties were taken. Events are out of order, and details are omitted or added, sometimes for better (like giving Art3mis a much bigger role), and other times for the worst (TJ Miller as i-R0k, whose appearance and personality are quite polarizing).
All that being said, the movie has its problems. Tye Sheridan is nothing special as Wade. Any actor could have played the role; there’s nothing he really brings to the performance. In fact, I think he was only cast because he looks like a younger version of Spielberg himself. There’s barely any character development, so don’t expect anything beyond one or two personality traits from each person on screen. Simon Pegg makes a few appearances as Ogden Morrow, Halliday’s only friend and co-creator of The OASIS, but he’s not giving much to do, and it’s weird hearing him speaking without his British accent. Also, and this might just be me, but I couldn’t care less about what the “real world” within the movie was like. The OASIS is just too stunning and lively to look at, and when we return to “reality”, it’s just boring, and you’re left waiting for the characters to jump back into The OASIS. Frankly, with the great design of the CGI, this movie would be a great anime. Oh, and the movie is two and a half hours long. While Spielberg keeps the pace brisk, not even he can make you not notice that you’ve been sitting for quite a while.
I’m going to keep this review and the plot details within short, as I want you see this movie for yourself, because I believe it is an event movie that needs to be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. I give “Ready Player One” a solid 4 out of 5 stars. The movie is a return to blockbuster form for Spielberg, and a reminder of how awesome and fun movies can be, and in typical Spielberg fashion, there’s a little life lesson at the end. If you’re a lover of video games, or just pop culture in general, you’re going to love this movie. Now excuse me, while I kick myself for not coming up with the story’s idea, and writing the novel myself.