Steven Spielberg takes a break from his Oscar-bait movies like Lincoln, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Bridge of Spies, The Post, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (…what are you doing in there?) to pay tribute to the decade that sparked his career, producing classics like E.T., Gremlins, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Joe Versus the Volcano (…what are you doing in there?). No other producer could have made Ready Player One a success, what with Spielberg’s genius directorial hand, his playful storytelling ability, and his ridiculous network of colleagues who hold the rights to these nostalgic creations. Ready Player One is packed with so many references from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s, that a recently thawed Captain America would be reeling. Get ready to feel immense pride that your vintage trivia is on point, or to feel more lost than the Poltergeist kid on the other side of the TV.
The year is 2045 and kids have won the fight for five more minutes on the console. The result is a race, young and old, so addicted to virtual reality that it’s now an essential service. One program in particular has captured their undivided attention: the OASIS. This virtual universe includes all of the expected features like war planets, dance clubs, and gambling rings, but it’s also where people attend school, work, and socialize. The OASIS is a physical internet that you can pull over your eyes and touch with special gloves. The creator of the OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a social recluse who worshiped the 1980s, hid a prize within the game that can grant the finder full ownership of the program plus its entire stock portfolio worth a few billion dollars. Halliday hates social interaction so much that he waits until just after his death to reveal the existence of this prize – the Easter Egg – and thus avoid any probing questions. The world loses its pants. The search begins, but after two years of fruitless hunting, people become discouraged and disinterested. Except for Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). More commonly known as the avatar Parzival, Wade is a nobody kid who finds the first key on a hunch – a hunch guided by his years of Halliday research. The race is back on and Wade, now the most famous avatar in the OASIS, needs the help of his friend Aech (Lena Waithe), his dream girl Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), and the ninja/samurai duo Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki) to hunt down the remaining keys. The only trouble is their competition: billions of hobby competitors and a power corporation, IOI, that funds an army of hunters bent on turning the OASIS into a corporate paradise for the rich.
The keys are tricky to locate but even tougher to catch, unless you’re a pop culture expert and devoted Halliday researcher. It’s a mystery why Wade is an impoverished nobody when he could be making millions on Jeopardy. That is, unless Jeopardy was lost during the Great Give Up of the 2020s. Ready Player One asks the poignant question: why keep trying to fix the planet if we can tune into our dream world right here and now? The internet is so strong in 2045 that we can plug in from anywhere: a steel-coated basement, a moving van, or in the open street, no outlets or network passwords required. Thankfully, for the full experience, a player still has to physically move to make their avatar run, walk, or close the car door, so we’re not entirely doomed potatoes just yet – just soggy ones with a few stubbed toes. Ready Play One never fully explains how average players can run races in their living rooms or avoid the TV while fighting Godzilla.
Godzilla is a feature of the OASIS, as with everything else you can think of: a T-Rex, King Kong, the Iron Giant, Gundam Wing, Halo teams, Street Fighter, even Spawn makes a cameo. Ready Player One is an endless parade of references that made me feel equal parts proud of my nerd-knowledge and worried that I’m a pasty-faced introvert. Who wouldn’t want to drag race a Delorean or scale Mount Everest with Batman? The OASIS is a place of dreams. Every avatar is perfectly unique and proudly designed. No one in the OASIS feels unconfident or uncomfortable about their appearance. If you want purple skin and hearts for cheeks, click here and go for it. Ready Player One creates a visual paradise. Soak it up. Art3mis is half anime character and half hedgehog, while Parzival sparkles like a tattooed, blue vampire. The movements, scattered pixels, and clothes made of smoke are beautifully rendered and face no limits thanks to the OASIS’ design.
Ready Player One also takes creative liberties with the plot which means that fans of the book may find themselves a little lost and disappointed. The book was more of an inspiration for the movie, rather than a true guide. You can’t blame them; it’s not easy to follow every plot line when the major players are protected sources like Packman and Voltron. Still, Ready Player One does its best to side-track the story and still keep it interesting. It may not be as unexpected or as murderous as the book, but Ready Player One’s plot still holds up as a teen rebellion gone viral. Kids are fighting in the streets and sacrificing their fictional lives with all of their fictional stuff to follow the sparkly blue avatar in his quest to screw over the power corporation. The evil businessman, Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the guy who keeps his password on a post-it note, throws bombs at low-income communities, runs a slave camp in his basement, denies health care to dying prisoners, and hops in a tank to mow down teenagers, shows what happens to a coffee runner after too many years of servitude. The mythical local police only appear after Sorrento softly parts a crowd with a handgun.
Much like Avatar, Ready Player One is an adventure just for the graphics. It’s a fun trip down memory lane and a challenge to recognize all of the references, but as a movie on whole, the visuals far surpass the story. The friends who met on a global platform coincidentally live in the same city along with the villain who’s trying to kill them. The only currency that matters is virtual, and people are ready to sacrifice it all so that Wade can be a billionaire. Is Wade going to compensate these nine billion people for their loses? There are more than a few questions unanswered and paths left unexplained. Still, that Iron Giant was hella cool. Ready Player One is sparkly eye candy at 6.5/10.