Ready Player One falls a bit short of being a visual masterpiece that’s on par with many of director Steven Spielberg’s best films. There’s a lot to enjoy at first glance but reality soon sets in after the nostalgia wears off.
The film is chock full of Easter Eggs to movies, television, books, video games and beyond. This isn’t a surprise when one considers the source material is essentially a love letter to so many of Spielberg’s cinematic hits. It’s a wonder that Spielberg wasn’t able to include those references in the film. Sure, a T-Rex from Jurassic Park is clearly evident early on but that’s mostly it aside from the DeLorean from the Spielberg-produced Back to the Future.
The film is set in Columbus, Ohio, in 2045. Columbus, for a multitude of reasons, is the largest growing city in the United States. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives with his aunt, Alice (Susan Lynch), and her never-ending supply of awful boyfriends in an area known as The Stacks. This area plays home to the poorest residents given the Jenga-style housing situation. A gunter, Wade escapes into the OASIS, where he’s known as Parzival, in search of the first of three keys that James Halliday (Mark Rylance) left behind.
When Halliday died, he left behind Anorak’s Quest, a search for an Easter Egg that includes three keys but also control over the OASIS. This leads Wade to spend a lot of time at Halliday’s Journals in search of figuring out just what it is that Halliday left behind. It’s only when Wade finds the first key that he realizes just how much danger he’s in.
Wade is joined by Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cook), Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zao) in the quest. Together, they are the High Five. While Samantha serves as a love interest for Wade, this is an area that could have been explored better. Even though Wade is able to see beneath the surface as he falls in love with Art3mis/Samantha, there’s so much more that could have been done to improve the female gaze and do better justice for the character.
This isn’t really Cook’s fault in as much as it is adapting a book that’s heavy on pop cultural references. We already know early on that the High Five are bound to be the heroes of the film. The journey feels predictable in that regard. The good guys win, the bad guys lose. It’s one of the most predictable tropes in existence–it’s just a matter of the journey getting there and this one feels over-bloated.
Paving the way for all of the danger is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI). He will truly stop at nothing to take control of the OASIS, even bringing in his crony, I-R0k (T.J. Miller), to do the job. Whether they considered recasting the ole or not, it doesn’t matter who is behind the voice of the character because it’s one of the worst parts of the film. It is interesting to note, however, that he is the only one of the major characters who doesn’t have a real world scene outside of the OASIS. Whether this is intentional or not, I don’t know. Since I decided to keep my personal feelings out of my review, please head over here for an extended take on not recasting the role.
Halliday is to the modern day what Willy Wonka was to the 1970s with a mix of Steve Jobs thrown in. Even though the Wonka remains a classic, there’s some definitive similarities between the two with their eccentricities and all. Rylance gives it his all in his third collaboration with the Oscar-winning director. The film may not even say it but Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) is clearly the Steve Wozniak of their failed partnership. Part of the game deals with their shared history and it’s an area that could be improved upon in so many ways.
While Ready Player One‘s Willy Wonka-esque plot drags on well longer than it should, the pop culture references are being thrown at a mile a minute. This is faster than any reasonable human can process them before they disappear. It’ll take a few viewings at best in order to catch all the Easter eggs on screen outside of what is in the trailer.
Ready Player One is visually pleasing but at the end of the day, it’s just another film heavy on Easter eggs and short on character development.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITERS: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline
CAST: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Hannah John-Kamen, with Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance
Following the world premiere at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, Warner Brothers Pictures will release Ready Player One in theaters on March 29, 2018.