Review of “Ready Player One”

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:

Blockers—

Chappaquiddick—

The Miracle Season—

A Quiet Place—

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Review of “X-Men: Apocalypse”

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been alive for many lifetimes and is the leader of Egypt 5000 year ago. Born the first mutant and able to transfer his consciousness from one body to another, En Sabah Nur is being transferred into the body of a mutant with healing abilities which would likely make him nearly immortal when some of his guards turn against him and seal him within a pyramid buried deep underground. With the public finding out about mutants in the 1970’s, a cult has developed around the myth of En Sabah Nur. CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating one of these cults in Cairo when she witnesses the awakening of En Sabah Nur but doesn’t realize what she sees. En Sabah Nur, seeing how the world has changed by absorbing information from a satellite TV connection, puts into motion a plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule a world of only mutants. He recruits four followers giving their mutant abilities a boost. First is Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who is able to control the weather, next is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who can project psychic energy in the form of a purple sword or whip, third is Angel (Warren Worthington III) who flies with wings of metal growing from his back and the last is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. En Sabah Nur detects the mind of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) while he is using Cerebro to look for Magneto. Overwhelming Xavier, En Sabah Nur abducts him with a plan to use his psychic abilities to contact all living minds. Xavier’s students and fellow instructors Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) join forces to stop En Sabah Nur and his Four Horsemen from bringing about an apocalypse.

Perhaps it’s superhero burnout. Perhaps it’s the release of this film close to the vastly superior “Captain America: Civil War.” Maybe it’s just the quality of this film. Whatever the reason, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a flat, uninvolving and somewhat repetitive mix of visually exciting CGI action and mind-numbing complications leading to a predictable ending and a post-credits scene that will only excite someone steeped in X-Men comics lore. I don’t hate “X-Men: Apocalypse” but I believe it could have been better.

My main issue with the film is it never involves the audience emotionally. Even when given a chance to with the death of a young mutant, it is tossed off like something meaningless. It never feels like there are real consequences to what happens in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as the ending is telegraphed by an early scene, showing us who will be responsible for the “good” mutants beating the “bad” mutants.

If you feel like that’s a spoiler you haven’t been paying much attention to the “X-Men” movies over the years. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg don’t stray too far from the formula that has been the staple of X-Men and other superhero movies. While the film does drop a few hints about what may come up in future installments (including that post-credits scene), it doesn’t really stretch the lore of these characters the way “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. That film committed what many fans thought of as an unforgivable sin and completely reset the timeline of the movie universe. This film stays locked within the lines and acts like there are hot lava alligators lurking past the comfortable and expected edges. They are characters based on comic books. They can be and do ANYTHING! They aren’t constrained by time, physics, death or any other rule we normal humans can’t violate. They brought Professor Xavier back after we watched him die in the third X-Men movie and gave us absolutely NO explanation and we all collectively went “ok.” Play with these characters and stretch them in directions that aren’t straight from the moviemaking rule book. After all, (SPOILER ALERT) Marvel comics just made Captain America a HYDRA agent. If they can do that, you guys can give audiences some surprises when it comes to these films.

“X-Men Apocalypse” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action and destruction, sequences of violence and some suggestive images. Buildings are ripped from the ground and cars flung in the air but no loss of life is seen. One cameo appearance by an X-Men favorite leads to lots of dead bodies and some puddles of blood. Mystique is nearly choked to death. A woman and child are killed with a bow and arrow. There are other examples of mutant on mutant mayhem. I’m not exactly sure what the suggestive images are referring to as I don’t recall anything other than a couple of female costumes that might be considered such. Foul language is infrequent but there is one “F-Bomb.”

The story of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is rather convoluted but the idea behind the story is simple: Mutants are still feared and often abused or put on display by humans so En Sabah Nur uses mutants’ anger and fear to make them his soldiers. It seems fairly straightforward but for some reason Bryan Singer and the makers of the movie feel the need to throw in a great many complications, locations and action scenes to muddy the waters. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an overwrought mess that needed to be reined in before it hit theatres.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” gets two stars out of five.

Love, music and more mutation hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these movies.

Me Before You—

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.