Director: Steven Spielberg
Ready Player One is built for the nostalgia lover in all of us. Actually, it’s built for those who love nostalgic references to the ’80s and the ’90s. If you qualify, this movie is so packed with references to some of the biggest cultural hits of the past few decades that even astute viewers will have a hard time keeping up.
Steven Spielberg, the visionary who previously helmed action-packed films like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Jurassic Park (1993) and War of the Worlds (2005), returns to that genre here. The two-time Oscar winner reminds us once again of his visual prowess as he crafts this unique feature.
Adapted from the Ernest Cline novel, the film takes place in 2045. After a series of horrific events (including a corn syrup drought and bandwidth riots), many people spend much of their time in the Oasis, a virtual reality world created by the late Halliday (Mark Rylance).This world allows users the opportunity to fulfill their wildest dreams.
As frequent Oasis user Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) states, “The limits of reality are your own imagination. You can do anything. Go anywhere.”
What Wade truly wants is a better life and he knows he can find that if he completes the challenge Halliday created before he died. Halliday left three hidden keys in the game. Whoever finds those keys first and earns the most points will inherit the Oasis and the money that comes with it.
Wade navigates the Oasis using an avatar named Parzival. In the game, he enlists the support of his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), the mysterious Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and two other characters to solve the puzzle that Halliday left behind.
Although much of the film takes place in the Oasis, the main characters also appear outside of the virtual world. Unfortunately though, these characters never come across as fully fleshed-out individuals. In fact, their backgrounds are bland and uninspired. Sheridan, for one, is a great young actor (his performances in Joe and The Stanford Prison Experiment truly stood out) but Wade never has the chance to really develop here. He’s introduced simply as a put-upon teenager who lives with his irresponsible aunt and her latest obnoxious boyfriend.
It’s truly in the Oasis where the character really comes to life but even there, Wade acts like a typical teenager who falls in love easily (way too easily) and simply wants to win the grand prize.
Fortunately though, the feature’s stunning visuals are a sight to behold and it’s wonderfully exhilarating to see Spielberg pay tribute to so many other iconic films. From Back to the Future to Masters of the Universe, the Oasis — like the many video games that are mentioned in it — is packed with Easter eggs that viewers will be discovering in the years to come. This is a celebration of ’80s and ’90s culture and the movie will reward frequent viewers and perceptive filmgoers.
The world of the Oasis is truly a beautiful world to behold and Spielberg navigates the action with a keen eye, keeping viewers enthralled in epic car chases, elaborate dance scenes and a climactic large-scale battle. Spielberg knows how to direct action scenes and these sequences work by keeping an intense focus on the participants involved in the action and crafting a grandiose world around them.
There’s truly a lot to love and appreciate in this massively-involved production. There are moments in it that are truly spectacular and unbelievably constructed. That being said, the lack of character depth does ultimately hinder the efforts here. Despite the fantastic effects, this is a traditional narrative about an underdog vying for love and financial success and a corporate villain (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants all the power for himself.
Ready Player One will likely delight fans of action films, pop culture lovers and video game aficionados alike but those looking for a deeper story may find something lacking here.
Review by: John Hanlon