READY PLAYER ONE Review: 8 out of 10 (A Virtual Hit for Film Fans)
READY PLAYER ONE is the latest film produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on Cline's 2011 novel of the same name. The film stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance.
The film is set in the year 2045 where much of humanity, to escape the desolation of the real-world, use the virtual reality software OASIS to engage in work and play. Wade Watts (Sheridan) discovers clues to a hidden game within the program that promises the winner full ownership of the OASIS. However, a large tech corporation, IOI is using indentured workers in the virtual world to also win the game and take control of the world. Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn) is the corporate king who wants the OASIS simply to monetize it for profits. But finding the “easter egg” that can win the world isn’t easy. Like a sort of treasure hunt, Wade and others have searched for years. But one day, Wade breaks through and finds the key to really unravel the puzzles of the Oasis. Along the way, he finds friends in the OASIS who are willing to help him with his quest. Not knowing them in the real world, he only knows them by their virtual avatars. Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), along with Aech, Sho, and Daito all join forces with Wade to win the game and defeat IOI and Sorrento.
READY PLAYER ONE seems to have struck on something that so many other films have attempted to greater and lesser degrees—blending the real world and a virtual one. Though THE MATRIX offered this sort of duality, other films like TRON (and most noticeably its awful reboot) have sometimes struggled to make a strong story between these intersecting worlds. For fans of the novel, there is plenty here to like, but also some parts of Wade’s quest adventures that have been altered for the screen in some pretty significant ways. But for this reviewer, the improvements are clear. As one who read the Cline novel, the last third or so of the book left me cold as Cline seemed more concerned with waving his nerd card around to readers than creating an engaging climax to his book. Here, Spielberg wisely broadens the scope of Cline’s novel away from niche throwback gaming and insider manga/anime references and offers a much larger pop culture umbrella for audiences to enjoy. Tye Sheridan continues to impress as a young acting talent, as does Olivia Cooke. T.J. Miller has a nice turn (albeit only a virtual one) as an OASIS bounty hunter that seems to steal more than a few scenes. However, the real star is Ben Mendelsohn as the CEO of the evil corporation. Chewing up the scenery, Mendelsohn snarls his way through scene after scene. If there is any criticism here it is that many of these characters are a bit two-dimensional.
And…it is a fair criticism. The film spends so much time early on to explain the world of the future and the OASIS that if feels like an info dump. The film even relies on a voice-over by Wade to explain everything to us as we watch. And though the film moves quickly with action, the film relies heavily on character archetype: affable nerd, funny sidekick, cooler-than-you nerd girl/love interest, and yes...evil corporate baddie. They all work well enough for the sake of the story, and the movie works at a pretty brisk pace—nearly too brisk—not slowing down to develop any of the characters, their motivations, or their reasoning. And even the plot lurches forward a bit too quickly between some set pieces where the audience may feel like they are running to catch up with what is going on.
Having said that, READY PLAYER ONE is a pretty engaging and fun film that if chock full of pop culture and references that will have nerds begging for a pause button to spot them all. Better to just let them wash over you and enjoy the oversaturation. A summer blockbuster released in the Spring, Spielberg returns to his roots of creating a fun sci-fi fantasy where kids push back against the adults to win the day.