'Ready Player One'
As the influence of nerd culture continues to spread throughout the entertainment industry, I’ve started to become bitter toward it. I like my entertainment to stand on its own. I don’t want to see it milk the nostalgic teat of its predecessors. ‘The Martian’ bugged the hell out of me, so when I learned the premise behind the equally popular book ‘Ready Player One’, the eye-rolling and groans started up. However, I forgot one key thing: ‘Ready Player One’ isn’t just a nerd blockbuster; it’s a nerd blockbuster from one of the best filmmakers to live. I never should have doubted him.
While some may contest that ‘Ready Player One’ is a commentary on social/economic classes, unstoppable and powerful corporations, and the effects of the entertainment industry, it’s really just an extremely fun movie about video games.
In the not-too-distant future, the world has become so overpopulated that everyone – from kids and teens to adults and seniors – escapes reality and spends their waking moments in an online Virtual Reality world called the OASIS. With the potential to earn actual money (“credits”) in the process, some have made careers out of gaming.
When the creator of the OASIS (Mark Rylance from ‘Bridge of Spies‘ and ‘Dunkirk‘) died several years earlier, he announced three hidden keys within its endless worlds. Any player to complete three seemingly impossible tasks and obtain all three keys will find the prized Easter Egg, which will give him or her full ownership and control of the OASIS. The goal is to keep the OASIS out of the hands of greedy corporate stooges and give it to a fan that truly understands and appreciates it for what it is and what it could be.
Tye Sheridan (‘Mud‘, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse‘) plays the lead. In the real world, he’s known as Wade, an orphan who lives with his aunt in an impoverished neighborhood. In the OASIS, he goes by the avatar Parzival and works as a career key-hunter who not only loves the OASIS, but feels a deep connection with its late creator. Anytime that Wade steps into the OASIS, we’re taken into a completely CG world that’s loaded with pop culture references. Some are prominent and in the forefront, while countless more are embedded in the background as Easter Eggs. Nerds will be on the hunt frame-by-frame for years with this one.
When Parzival becomes the first player to find a key, he and his friends make it onto the OASIS’ leaderboard, gaining the attention of not only the other key hunters, but the evil corporation that wants to own the OASIS and fill it with paid advertising. With an employee army dedicated entirely to beating Parzival inside and outside the OASIS, they’ll stop at nothing to win.
After playing a slimy corporate ladder-climbing villain in ‘Rogue One‘, Ben Mendelsohn was an obvious casting choice for the same character type in ‘Ready Player One’. While Olivia Cooke showed her acting chops in ‘Me and Earl in the Dying Girl‘, neither she nor Sheridan get too much to work with here. The most impressive members of the cast are Rylance and Simon Pegg, who plays the business partner that helped launch the OASIS. Pegg is a crowd-pleaser in comedic roles, so it’s a very nice surprise to see what he can do in a fairly subdued role.
More than half of the movie takes place in the OASIS, making ‘Ready Player One’ pretty comparable to ‘Avatar‘. The majority of what you see on-screen is CGI – but as much as I hate purely CG movies, considering the OASIS is supposed to look like a video game, I found it entirely fitting and not at all annoying or distracting. And as much as I didn’t want to wade through a 140-minute flash flood of pop culture references, the screenplay has a whole lot of fun with them. They’re not just used for coolness’ sake. Most of them serve a purpose. I’ll refrain from spoiling it, but one sequence plays with a well-known property in such a fun way that I will never forget how much I laughed and smiled as the sequence unraveled.
I look at ‘Ready Player One’ in the same way that I look at ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘. It’s not for everyone. If you’re not into or don’t know much pop culture, then you’re likely not going to be as entertained as those who are. Several sequences and countless references will fly right over your head. I fear that anyone over 50 years of age will hate the ride that the movie takes you on. But if you get it, you’re going to love it.
‘Ready Player One’ is the perfect specimen for a summer blockbuster. It’s pure entertainment. You won’t learn a life lesson from it, but you’ll walk away with some electricity coursing through your soul. As a huge Spielberg fan, I love seeing him back in his prime all-out fun state. ‘Ready Player One’ is easily the most entertaining popcorn-chomping moviegoing experience that I’ve had since ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘.