If you like playing “spot the pop culture reference”, then don’t look any further. Ready Player One is a veritable homecoming for any geeky child of the 80s to feel they’re back in style.
But to go backward in time, we must first go forward. The movie kicks off in the year 2045 where reality is in shambles. Our hero Wade Watts lives in “The Stacks”, a high-rise ghetto constructed of stacked trailers and trashed cars. To escape this world, people engage in a virtual reality environment known as the OASIS. It’s all good until the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies and leaves his legacy to the person who can find the three keys he’s hidden somewhere in the VR world. This sparks a treasure hunt to keep OASIS from falling into the wrong hands.
Let me just say that when I heard this was hitting the big screen, I was excited and worried. Excited because I freaking loved Ernest Cline’s book. I mean, I wrote a review for the book and gushed about how it “sang” to my soul. Yeah, no kidding. I’m slightly embarrassed. So naturally, I was worried that it was going to be a poor representation on screen and everyone was going to think how crazy I was to ever like anything associated with it.
My insecurity issues aside, I am relieved to say that I came out smiling. This film is one fun ride. You like sci-fi adventure? You got it. Mysterious and intriguing puzzle-solving? Check. Bad guys who don’t just glower and slip into stereotypes? Yes. Oh yes. In fact, one of the most stand-out characters for me was I-R0k, an evil Skeletor-warlock CGI hybrid (aren’t I describing this real well) who sounds like he’s in desperate need of a chiropractor. I mention this last part because that was just the tip of the iceberg for how enjoyable this character really was. At some point, Saskia leaned over and said that she’d just realized that I-R0k was voiced by T.J. Miller from Silicon Valley. Did I get the reference? No. I don’t watch Silicon Valley. But now I want to.
Other characters worth mentioning were Halliday played by Mark Rylance (of Dunkirk fame). Halliday is the supreme nerd king complete with terrible hair and awkward posture while still being absolutely lovable. His struggle with real life is surprisingly heartfelt and there were moments in the film where I just wanted to give him a hug.
Tye Sheridan plays Wade and while I was initially unsure about this casting having only ever seen him in non-descript roles (e.g. Scott Summers), he managed to win me over in the end. It could have been the fact that I’ve known people like Wade – tough, smart and still desperate to belong. Or it could have been the fact that his avatar Parzival had great floaty CGI hair. Whatever it was, it worked.
Unfortunately, discovering the great parts of the film means wading through a whole bunch of exposition at the start just to make sure you’re clued in to the world of Ready Player One. It’s forgivable but there probably could have been more immersive ways to do this. Less forgivable though are the main characters just falling into BFF kind of friendships upon meeting for the first time. How do these characters who’ve only met in VR – and some only for a few fleeting moments – suddenly share an “I’ll put my body on the line for you” kind of relationship? It seems a little hard to swallow, especially with Wade confessing his love to Art3mis after just a few encounters, but I’m hoping that most people will overlook this because the film as a whole is worth it.
It’s one of those films you’ll want all your geeky friends to see too if only so you can giggle later about the scene with the creepy twins. Oh, and did I mention that The Spielberg directed this? Yeah, it’s pretty good.