Review: Ready Player One (2018)



Steven Spielberg reimagines Ernest Cline’s popular novel into an dazzling ode to our love affair with pop culture.

For most people, when we look back fondly on our youth, we think of those first golden moments that define us as individuals. There’s all those important firsts; first day of school, first friend, first love. As time goes on and life gets bigger and more complicated, those treasured memories become even more important and treasured. We look towards milestones to mark them in our memories and sometimes those milestones become as important as those times. You define a treasured moment with friends or family by a commercial for a long forgotten restaurant, or a video game you played. The game itself is irrelevant, its important because it reminds you of a better time or a treasured memory; often we try to find those moments by purchasing those games or toys today to remind us of what we loved. But what if you were the richest person in the world and you spent your whole life crafting those moments and milestones into a literal universe of nostalgia. Would you lose yourself in this world or would you try to find a way to free others from the ennui of escapism.

This is the central question facing James Halliday (Mark Rylance) in Steven Spielberg’s loose adaptation of Ernest Cline’s seminal geek novel Ready Player One. Halliday is the creator of the OASIS, an all-engulfing virtual universe in the year 2045. Society is on the decline, living in slums called stacks, and most people spend the bulk of their lives escaping the real world in the OASIS, a simulation that Halliday saw as a game, not the monolith it would become. As time goes on, Halliday dies, his death triggering a video Halliday made that reveals Halliday had built an elaborate Easter Egg hunt in his OASIS; one that would grant the winner half a trillion dollars and complete control over the OASIS if the Egg Hunter or Gunter finds 3 magical keys to reveal the egg’s location.

Enter Parzival (Tye Sheridan), also known as Wade Watts, a young working-class gunter living in the stacks of Columbus, Ohio. Wade races his DeLorean Time Machine through an elaborate race track supposedly housing the first key and clue to Halliday’s contest in order to pick up coins and artifacts from the other Gunters whose cars are crushed and destroyed by King Kong guarding the finish line. It is here that Wade meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a world famous gunter that Wade has a crush on. Wade saves the life of Art3mis’ avatar and helps her fix her destroyed bike from the seminal Japanese anime Akira by introducing her to his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe). Art3mis challenges Parzival’s rationale for participating in the race and the egg hunt in general; he wants a mansion and fame. Art3mis wants to use the prize to bring down IOI, a corrupt mega business conglomerate that employs an army of gunters called Sixers and a cadre of Halliday scholars all overseen by the villainous Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to own the OASIS to monetize it as much as possible. As Parzival considers what Art3mis has brought up, he remembers a piece of random Halliday arcana that leads to him getting the first key in the competition, along with Art3mis, Aech and their 2 friends, Daito and Sho. With these “High 5″ ruling the scoreboard of Halliday’s egg, Sorrento and his lackeys, including an OASIS hacker named iROK (T.J. Miller) will do anything to become the winner of Halliday’s Easter Egg.

The first thing you need to know going into Ready Player One is that Spielberg and screenwriter Zack Penn working from an original draft by Ernest Cline use only the bare bones of the original book’s structure and characters to craft a whole new narrative that is much more engaging and inclusive than that of Cline’s original novel. This film is the 2010’s version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit; a dazzling feast of pop culture eye candy drawn from every popular genre; comics, horror movies, video games, and modern pop culture in service of a strong central story. While the core story isn’t as engaging as a similar themed film like Wreck-It Ralph, it works on a similar level of engaging the viewer in an immersive virtual world on a quest of redemption for its ensemble of characters. The technical craftsmanship behind the film is amazing; this is one of the most immersive 3D films since Avatar set the bar in 2009 and the various setpieces in the film really highlight that, including an immersive scene halfway through inspired by The Shining that may be one of the single coolest sequences you will see in a theater this year. That’s not to downplay the rest of this film’s easter eggs; there’s an amazing sense of just plain cool in seeing a world where Halo Spartans face off against Mecha-Godzilla or seeing an Alien chestburster pop out of the chest of Mortal Kombat’s four-armed Goro. Its like a mash-up of your toy shelves from the last 30 years on the silver screen. But most importantly, it improves on the narcissistic, dated and cynical narrative of Cline’s original novel in every conceivable way. Halliday is much more of a Willy Wonka by way of Steve Jobs with a sense of melancholy brought to life in a remarkably nuanced performance by Mark Rylance. Simon Pegg gives a great performance throughout and his Ogden Morrow serves as a great tribute to the book’s take on him as the Wizard of Oz while taking that angle in a different way.

Overall, Ready Player One is the rare example of a movie that improves on the book and Spielberg crafts a film that celebrates pop culture and deserves a place right along with the best of the classic films Spielberg produced in the 1980’s. See this on the biggest screen possible and enjoy the ride.