Ready Player One, 2018.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, Lena Waithe, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Mckenna Grace, Win Morisaki, Susan Lynch, and Philip Zhao
When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
Premiering at the SXSW film festival with masterful director Steven Spielberg in attendance, there’s something he said about the production of his latest effort, Ready Player One, that clicked with me despite not being in the Paramount Theatre – “We didn’t make a film, we made a movie”. The blockbuster marks Spielberg’s return to big-budget spectacle after churning out quite a few impressive biopics (Lincoln and last year’s The Post which was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy), and his words should feel right at home to the readers of this very website. After all, Flickering Myth does grade films on two different scales, Film and Movie, judging the merits of each category appropriately.
Bearing that in mind, it can confidently be stated that Ready Player One (Ernest Cline writing the script based on his novel with Zak Penn) will go down as one of the most wondrously entertaining works of the year. And although much of the Internet is labeling the experience as something specifically for nerds or gamers, there really is a reference or iconic cameo for everyone. Teenagers will obviously have heard of Minecraft, Halo, and will catch on to appearances of modern video game heroes such as Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, and so many more (if I keep on going this review will last longer than the actual movie), while adults will love seeing characters like Jason Voorhees, the DeLorean car from the Back to the Future series, the motorcycle from Akira, and even some of Spielberg’s own revered creations such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park. Anyone that has ever seen a classic film or played a popular video game franchise will have something to marvel at; Ready Player One is a love letter to all of these beloved imaginations.
The closest parallel to Ready Player One is Robert Zemeckis’ excellent Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (which still holds up today), mixing live-action and notable cartoon characters to tell a story of its own that to this day is still unlike anything out there, but this movie has a much larger scope, even if the results are some narrative shortcomings. Basically, in the year 2045, the world has undergone multiple severe changes that have left the world bordering on an apocalyptic state. People live bunched together in poor looking apartment complexes in a dull environment with washed out colors, but have a means of escaping reality by entering a digital world known as the OASIS; picture an online MMO that you could plug yourself into with a headset containing endless possibilities for your avatar.
This virtual reality was created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance once again collaborating with Spielberg), an awkwardly shy programmer that built the world as a way to interact with others, just without the whole physical part. The OASIS took off and became hugely profitable, populated by other gamers and seemingly endless pop-culture references, and quickly turned into the easiest way to get away from the current depressing state of life. Not to mention, the currency earned in the game can also apparently be used to buy things in the real world, but much of this (including James’s friendship with his business partner Ogden, played by Simon Pegg, falling apart) is lost in translation. A great deal is treated as entry-level exposition, compressed into the gist of things so as to not further blow up the 140-minute running time, but in doing so there are a lot of fantastical elements regarding the OASIS left only briefly touched upon. It should not come as a surprise that Ready Player One eventually shifts into a sprawling action epic that further ditches character development and plot, and while I harbor no ill will toward the movie for doing that, it has to be said that exploring this virtual reality is far more fascinating than CGI warfare.
Bar none, the best moment in Ready Player One is a suspended in midair dance sequence between the digital avatars of Wade and Samantha (Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke respectively) with graceful movements and majestic backgrounds that actually felt like the touching underwater dance scene between Tidus and Yuna in Final Fantasy X. I could be reaching with that one, but considering the number of references on-hand here, nothing seems too far out there. Regardless, it helps that despite the two Internet friends not having much backstory or anything to go on aside from some cliché motives and the common goal of finding the now deceased James Halliday’s three hidden Easter Eggs (known as various types of secrets in the landscape of video games) which will net the winner inheritance of his leftover fortune and the company responsible for the OASIS, they’re easy to cheer on in hopes of getting closer.
There is also a nefarious corporation headed by a ruthless CEO portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn, who is, of course, a force of evil in the role allowing audiences to further relate to the protagonists. Working with an army of office drones all hooked into the OASIS (the distance shots showing a bunch of them disconnecting from the virtual-reality all at once upon a large group dying are stylistically pleasant), he also enlists the help of a computer hacker played by T.J. Miller who also doubles as a reliable comedic relief. However, considering that he has come under fire for a number of personal reasons lately and is only performing a voice-over role, his non-removal is certainly questionable.
Anyway, when iconic characters and digital avatars aren’t tearing up a computer-generated battlefield, the movie is attempting to make a statement on how much real people consume things like online gaming and how it can be a detriment to their social lives. It may not reach the ambition intended, but there is the takeaway that the real world is what matters most, and finding true love involves taking chances inside of it. Not that there is any negative stigma to being a nerd, but they admittedly are the demographic that will connect with Ready Player One the most; aside from being a bombastic adventure filled with nearly every popular fictional character known to mankind, it serves as inspiration for socially awkward individuals to take a leap of faith and go after their crush. Additionally, that is a lesson we can all get behind.
Visually, the movie is stunning to look at, wisely using CGI that resembles an actual video game. On top of that, many of Spielberg’s action sequences are highly elaborate set-pieces that don’t even need the presence of King Kong or some other iconic character to razzle and dazzle, most especially a difficult race that is just as much a destruction derby. The soundtrack by Alan Silvestri also smartly is cautious not to draw any parallels between other films, but still captures the distinct magic to be found in a Spielberg movie. Besides, all of the catchy 80s songs are more than enough recognizable musical cues to make one smile on the reference front.
Saying it one more time, Ready Player One is pure Steven Spielberg wonder; this is something that could only be adapted by him. It’s a love letter to the things we love by someone who is responsible for some of the things we love most.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com