No one in Hollywood has crafted more memorable blockbusters than Steven Spielberg, the most famous director the world has ever seen. And while Spielberg has strayed from the familiar path in recent years and focused more so on dramas, Ready Player One is right in his wheelhouse. Ready Player One’s storytelling and character development do not reach levels high enough for those looking for some kind of depth in this 140-minute virtual reality journey. But when it comes to the movie’s action sequences and visual effects, Spielberg delivers to the max in spectacular fashion, which should please both regular movie goers and fans of 80s pop culture familiar with characters from movies, television, and video games over the years. Of course, Ready Player One plays out just like a video game, but that’s what makes it such an entertaining blockbuster and more of what we have come to love about Spielberg in years past; he transports audiences to new, exciting worlds we’d love to be part of. And with this ridiculous, filled-to-the-brim nostalgic blast, he’s done it again.
Ready Player One is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
The main story involving Wade Watts and his friends in search of the Easter egg is as standard as blockbusters get in that you know right off the bat just how things will end. But getting to the end of the journey (or game in this case) is what makes it such blast. Sure, you won’t care much for the story’s characters like Wade, who loses someone close to him and merely brushes it off, or the motives of the evil corporation IOI trying to take control of the OASIS, but you’ll certainly enjoy the number of pop culture references that appear throughout the course of the movie. But if there’s anything to take from Ready Player One’s story, it’s that it raises questions about the society we live in today and where it could go, with a seemingly majority of people are consumed by technology or get lost in gaming and reality itself. A brief moment where Wade loses himself in the OASIS when being with his new online friend Samantha feels like a dangerous reality kids live in now (or the next generation of kids). But still, by the end of the movie, it does a good job of driving home that there is more to life than gaming or virtual reality; we only use those as escapism from whatever is going on in our daily lives.
Whether it be an infamous character, vehicle, or setting, seeing pop culture references at such a rapid pace throughout Ready Player One will keep a smile on your face. And thankfully, the visual effects accompanying these pop culture references are outstanding, especially considering the number of references audiences will notice. For instance, it is thrilling to watch a race that shows off the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the bike from Akira, the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, and King Kong. Remember the Iron Giant or Gundam? Yeah, watching these two iconic characters spring into action during the movie’s final act will bring joy to those who love these almost forgotten characters. Oh, and a sequence that puts a spin on The Overlook Hotel from The Shining? Boy, what a sight to behold (and easily the best part of the entire movie). And those are only a small portion of the references you see in Ready Player One, which help keep the audience entertained even when the movie takes a break to go back to reality (Columbus, Ohio to be specific) where the moments aren’t as engaging, despite the good work from the movie’s cast.
Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) leads the way as Wade Watts, the awkward kid known as Parzival in the OASIS in search of the Easter egg. While Sheridan more than holds his own leading this nostalgic trip, the other young character, Samantha or Art3mis, played by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), is a much more interesting character. The supporting roles are where the characters in Ready Player One feel more valuable. These include Lena Waithe (Master of None) as Aaech and a modder in the OASIS, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as the kooky antagonist and owner of the evil corporation IOI, and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) as James Halliday, the co-creator of the OASIS. Some audience members might walk away relating to Halliday, a reserved, awkward person afraid of taking big steps, who used video games and movies as his only escape in order to feel normal.
Ready Player One not only feels like a movie Steven Spielberg made to show the kid inside him, but also the kid in everyone who grew up wanting their own action adventure when beating a game, winning a race, completing a difficult level, or unlocking an item in a game always felt like such a huge accomplishment. Time and time again in Ready Player One, Spielberg shows the adventures we witnessed while playing games when we were growing up. The result is a zany yet satisfying journey where the nostalgia hits never stop coming and allows us all to fast forward to the future and get at the heart of our past.