In 2045 the world is such a sad and depressing place many people spend the majority of their free time in a virtual world called the Oasis where they can be and do anything. Oasis was the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). The two had a falling out and Halliday bought out Morrow. Halliday was a genius but also had difficulty dealing with people. He wanted the Oasis to be a place where people could break out of their shells and explore what they loved. One of those explorers is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). In the Oasis his avatar is called Parzival. When Halliday died he released a recorded announcement saying he’d hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Three keys are required to gain access to the Easter egg. Whoever finds it will become the owner of the Oasis. This sets off a frenzy of activity to find the keys. Those that hunt for the Easter egg are called gunters (egg hunters) and Wade is one of these along with his friend Aech, a combination troll and android-looking creature that is great at building and rebuilding vehicles. If your avatar is killed in the games of the Oasis you lose all your upgrades and your money and have to start from scratch. Using all their resources to find the keys is Innovative Online Industries, or IOI. They build much of the real world hardware that is used to access the Oasis. Leading IOI is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who worked with Halliday and Morrow when the Oasis was created. He plans to turn much of the Oasis into advertising space once IOI finds the Easter egg. During his search Wade as Parzival meets the avatar Art3mis. She is a famous gamer and Wade quickly falls in love with her. Of course they have never met in real life so Art3mis could be completely unlike her avatar and Wade would never know. Still, the two become close as they search for clues they believe are hidden in the archive of Halliday’s life. When Wade finds the first key he comes to the attention of Sorrento who puts his security chief F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) on the case to find and eliminate him in the real world. He also uses the avatar I-ROk (voiced by T.J. Miller) to try and kill his avatar in the Oasis.
“Ready Player One” is the kind of movie that can drive some people insane. Those people are completists. They must finish whatever they start and they must find all the little nooks and crannies where some information might be hidden. A completist will need to find every pop culture reference made in Steven Spielberg’s film that is stuffed to the brim with them. If you just have to know them all there are guides on the Internet and a Google search will find them. I find that kind of thing exhausting and am happy with the sudden flash of recognition when seeing a familiar video game or movie character. There was a great deal that made me happy in “Ready Player One” besides the familiar pop culture and music choices. It is a fun film.
While some of the real critics have complained “Ready Player One” is too concerned about cramming in as many pop culture references as possible and giving less attention to the story, I respectfully disagree. Script writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, Cline wrote the book the movie is based on, have put forth a very simple story: Unrelenting greed never leads to a happy future. It may not be the deepest or most complicated story for a movie but it does work especially considering the current political and economic climate. Nolan Sorrento is the embodiment of corporate greed. He sees the Oasis only as a cash cow to be exploited and not for the opportunities of expression and freedom it allows. Those that are aware of his cynical view of the Oasis are determined to stop him despite Sorrento having a huge corporation and dozens of people working to find the keys. It is a classic David and Goliath story and with Steven Spielberg at the controls it is a well-told story.
The CGI of “Ready Player One” is pretty spectacular. What I liked best about it was the hundreds of artists used to create the Oasis got the physics right. When a car crashes or an object breaks it looks real. There are many moments in the film that could have been visual deal breakers. Where the trajectory of a falling object or the apparent weight of a stone block from the wall of a castle could have looked wrong or conveniently too light but everything in the virtual world looked legit. It’s also a small miracle the artists were able to accurately render the dozens of toy, movie and video game characters and references. If you see a character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Arkham video game or the motorcycle from “Akira” it will be done with a great deal of loving detail. The visuals of “Ready Player One” are the true stars of the movie.
I also enjoyed the performances in the real world scenes. Tye Sheridan does put upon teen very well. His Wade Watts is wide-eyed but also world-weary in a life that appears to be wearing him down. Escaping to his hideaway inside a discarded van buried deep in a junk yard, Wade has created an oasis of his own allowing him to escape into the virtual world. Orphaned young and living with an aunt that cares more about her abusive boyfriend than she does about him, Wade is essentially alone in a world that has gone mostly mad. He’s doing the best he can and the Oasis is a place he can freely express himself. While it might not win him an Oscar this performance will certainly get Tye Sheridan more work.
Olivia Cooke is the real world version of Art3mis. Cooke plays Samantha, a leader of the rebellion against IOI. While her avatar in the Oasis is brash and confident Samantha is anything but. She has a pale port wine stain birthmark over and on her right eye. She is very self-conscious of this blemish and it has clearly been a point of pain and suffering to her psyche. Samantha’s escape to the Oasis is clearly her attempt to soothe her pain and be the hero she can feel inside. It takes a desperate act to break her out of her self-imposed emotional exile and allow the bravery she has inside to escape. She takes chances and makes decisions that go against her own self-interest in an attempt to serve the greater good. It is a character young women can look to as a role-model.
The rest of the supporting cast is great but special kudos goes to Mark Rylance as Halliday. There is a childlike innocence to Halliday that tugs at the heartstrings. He’s clearly on the autism spectrum and struggling to make his vision clear to his partner Morrow played by Simon Pegg. Halliday wants everyone to see the Oasis the way he does: As a limitless playground to be enjoyed by all. There are moments when Halliday is speaking that I just wanted to hug him and tell him everything is going to be okay. Rylance is an amazing actor with incredible range and emotional depth. His Halliday is a child that can’t understand the complexities of business and why the world has to be so mean. He also thinks the Oasis should be used for fun and not for life. It’s a lesson that is saved for near the end of the film that even his love for his creation has its limits. It is a wonderfully subtle and emotional performance.
“Ready Player One” is rated PG-13 for language, bloody images, partial nudity, sci-fi action violence and some suggestive material. There are battles between video game characters and fights of various other types. The partial nudity is from a scene that takes place within the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and involves a woman getting out of a bathtub. There is no actual nudity. The suggestive material also involves “The Shining” scene along with a mildly seductive dance between the two main characters. “The Shining” is also the source of the bloody images with tidal wave coming from the elevators. There are also a few real world injuries that show some minor bleeding. Foul language is scattered and mild.
My advice for seeing “Ready Player One” is to just let the pop culture references flow over you and don’t try to identify every character that’s been pulled from nearly every movie and video game from the last 50-plus years. Simply sit back and enjoy the magic and childlike wonder on display from the master of fantasy and adventure movie making. It is good to see Spielberg back to making a good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing bit of popcorn cinema. You’ll leave the theater far happier than you entered it.
“Ready Player One” gets five stars.
This week four new movies hope they have something to offer you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
The Miracle Season—
A Quiet Place—
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