Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is a futuristic homage to the past, circa 1980s, resembling somewhat of a cross between Avatar and Divergent with the added twist of being directed by the ever-popular and prolific Steven Spielberg (The Post). If all that appeals, then go to the top of the leaderboard and ready yourself for an appealing (though far from classic) adventure that explores the pros and cons of living in the real world with all its flaws versus disappearing into a virtual reality game that promises a real pot of gold at the end of the virtual rainbow. If you’re up on your pop culture references (it helps to have seen The Shining at least once), pine for those trips to Blockbuster for the latest on VHS, or still have an Atari in the storage room, then Ready Player One is worth seeing on the big screen. Plus, it’s got a pretty awesome soundtrack.

Ready Player One is based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline who co-wrote the screenplay for the film. I haven’t read the book so I can’t speak to the film’s faithfulness to the source material. But I suspect its readers will be okay with the creative license taken. The film provides an interesting narrative and solid character arcs as it transports viewers into an almost cartoonish alternate reality for two-plus hours. No easy feat.

The story is set in Columbus, Ohio in 2045. The world has gone to hell. Reality is depressing. And people have opted to disengage from their bleak day-to-day existence by putting on their VR gear and jumping into the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by a brilliant and eccentric inventor named James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune – and control of the Oasis – to the first person to find a digital Easter egg that he’s hidden somewhere in the Oasis. A mind-bending treasure hunt ensues, with so-called “gunters” (egg hunters) devoting much of their lives to the game. Among them: a young man named Wade Watts aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan) who takes an early lead, only to find that the game has some very real and dangerous repercussions in the outside world.

I referenced both Avatar and Divergent earlier because the characters present as avatars when they are in the Oasis. And there are shades of a youthful rebellion afoot as the mysteries and motivations of the Oasis and its founder gradually unfold, and the younger generation must step up to protect the Oasis and all of humanity from the forces of corporate greed.

Ready Player One is no ET, but it does have heart and a strong supporting cast that includes Olivia Cooke as Art3mis/Samantha, Ben Mendelsohn as the primary antagonist Nolan Sorrento, T.J. Miller as I-R0k, Lena Waithe as Aech/Helen, and Simon Pegg as Ogden Morrow – the Steve Wozniak to Halliday’s Steve Jobs-like persona.

Like the Oasis, the film itself is filled with an abundance of Easter eggs – especially for movie and music buffs who rocked out in the 80s. You may not catch all the cultural touchstones peppered throughout the film, but you’ll get a kick out of being ‘in the know’ when something does resonate – even if it’s just a Van Halen, Joan Jett or Hall & Oates earworm.

And, in case you’re wondering (as I was), there’s no post-credit scene. So when the movie does wrap up after a hefty 140 minutes, you don’t have to linger. That’s not to say a return trip to the Oasis is out of the realm of possibility. Ready Player Two?

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