A movie like Ready Player One can only exist in the modern age love and reverence for pop culture. The book and the movie are riding this wave of obsession with pop culture and nostalgia for the 1980s that we’re currently in with shows like Stranger Things and movies like It (it’s a shame that J.J. Abrams’s Super 8 came out a few years too early). Ready Player One is Steven Spielberg attempting to turn the clock back into the filmmaker he was back in the 80s and early 90s.
Ready Player One needs the 80s and 90s Spielberg and it has been a while since he has been able to pull that off successfully. Even movies like Minority Report, while a big Sci-Fi action flick, are the product of a filmmaker at a different point in life. Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a recent attempt by Spielberg to turn the clock back to that era of his filmography and was rather unsuccessful at it. Ready Player One is vintage Spielberg.
Ready Player One is a movie told through the eyes of a teenage named Wade (Tye Sheridan). Wade lives in a place called the stacks, a sprawling city of stacked up trailer houses. In the year 2045, an invention called the OASIS, a virtual reality where anyone can be anyone and be anything. The OASIS is the ultimate world in gaming. The creator of the OASIS, James Holiday (Mark Rylance), has passed and has left a great quest for everyone in the OASIS to complete several challenges in order to find the golden Easter Egg. The winner of the Golden Egg would have complete control of the OASIS. Everyone is on the lookout for it but so too is another corporation who seeks to exploit the OASIS for their own benefit.
Ready Player One is science fiction that doesn’t feel that too far-fetched given our own technology and experimentation with virtual reality. Spielberg is no stranger to science fiction with movies like aforementioned Minority Report and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However, if you’re going into Ready Player One expecting to see the side of Spielberg that has a lot to say on a particular topic or looking for a sci-fi movie with the depth of the other science fiction films he has made you won’t really find that here either. Spielberg does have thoughts on the topic but he saves that for the very end (where he admittedly does stumble a bit trying to tie everything together). Ready Player One is more like Hook than Close Encounters. Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so. Especially when the movie is this damn fun.
Ready Player One may not have come out in the summer but this movie absolutely carries on the tradition of the fun summer blockbuster. This is a movie filled to the brim with chaotic and over the top action sequences that Spielberg handles with ease. One thing Spielberg has always been great at is blocking his shots. He does it with such precision that a lot of times people don’t even notice it. His camera effortlessly moves and slides from image to image always giving focus to what needs to be focused. A movie like Ready Player One could be very easy to make even more overwhelming than it already is. Imagine Michael Bay making this type of movie? The chaotic visuals would be so overwhelming to the point where you’ll want to vomit. Spielberg brings a veteran touch to fit in the massive and excessive amounts of visual effects and pop culture cameos.
The movie spends a lot of time in the OASIS which is brought to life with a look that is very video game-like but still very cinematic. On a rough guess, I would venture and say Ready Player One is about 75 percent animated. The animation isn’t photo-realistic, instead, it is very stylized, colorful and feels like a nice blend between the trailer cinematics that Blizzard and Bioware have put out for their World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic properties and Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tin-Tin. This really is a gorgeous spectacle.
Ready Player One has all the spectacle of a Jurassic Park and then some. Does it have the characters? Well, yes and no. The characters of Ready Player One are a bit hit and miss. The main villain of the movie (played by Ben Mandelson) is pretty flat but managed to be elevated by Mandelson’s performance. Oliva Cooke’s Samantha/Ar3mis is among the film’s best characters. I have really liked Cooke ever since I saw her in Bates Motel and she has a really good presence here. Tye Sheridan’s Wade is fine, the stereotypical main geeky hero of the movie. He is a fine hero to follow but not particularly memorable. His unabiding love (and moralistic heart) for the OASIS is what makes his character endearing, similar to Charlie in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Many of the side characters are fun but outside of Lena Waithe’s Aech they don’t get their moment to really shine.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this review, this movie isn’t perfect. The characters while weaker are none the less passable. The screenplay could have used a bit more polish. The dialogue can be a little rough and exposition heavy from time to time. There is also a few key beats in the story that needed more impact or a little more development. These flaws don’t break the movie but there are significant enough to warrant a mention.
For those that are going to write and complain about how this movie is heavy on pop culture references, I must ask, what movie did you think you were going to get? Ready Player One is a love letter to pop culture, geek culture and gaming culture, of course, it’s going to have a lot of references to other works! The story never diverts for the references to happen, they all come through organically. You can be anything you want in the OASIS, of course, someone is going to be Mercy from Overwatch. There is one major reference to Stanley Kubrick/Stephan King that absolutely blew me away. If you’re a fan of The Shining you’re really going to dig a section of this film.
The geeks have won, the revenge of the nerds has been completed. It is now cool to be well versed in and understand pop culture. A movie (and a book) like Ready Player One can only truly work and be appreciated in a culture and climate like we are in right now. Some may not like this type of climate but I think it is a fun time. It isn’t perfect, we’ve seen a rise in toxic fandoms in the past few years but I think the majority of the modern geek culture is fun and embracive. Ready Player One is exactly that, fun but not perfect. Ready Player One is a movie and a story made for modern audiences that love pop culture and have an affinity for it. This is like a modern Who Framed Roger Rabbit and is comparable to Wreck-It-Ralph. Ready Player One isn’t going to be winning any awards and could have been stronger in spots. When the movie was over I looked back and realized how great of a time I had. I was smiling and Steven Spielberg somehow found that spark of childlike wonder and enduring nature that he had with films like E.T. and Hook. Ready Player One won’t please cynics or people who don’t like Spielberg but for most others, they will find something to enjoy in here and I had a great time with this movie.