Ready Player One review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Ernest Cline is an author so infatuated with pop-culture he wrote an adventure novel theorizing what it’d be like to have a Willy Wonka factory with all his favorite toys. Steven Spielberg took a look at Cline’s book and said: “hey, I have all of those toys.” And so the two joined forces to grab a big bucket their favorite properties, dump them out on the rug, and build them up to craft their ultimate monument to geek. There’s nothing all that profound about its construction, not with intent at least, but as someone who adores the sight of a Gundam fighting Mechagodzilla, I just couldn’t resist.
The world of Ready Player One is a dystopia where the world has descended into a wasteland of pollution, unemployment, and housing so cramped trailers are stacked on top of one another. And so the populace retreats to the OASIS, a virtual reality game where you can be anyone, do anything, and maybe make a living. There’s an increased interest in the program when the game’s creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), dies and leaves the keys to the company hidden within the game, only to be discovered by those that can master his riddles and clues in the game.
Of course, per the Amblin model of adventure, the one hero to make these discoveries will be the poor, young, and excited Wade (Tye Sheridan). In real life, he’s a teenager without much to look forward to in the future. But in the OASIS, he is Parzival, the silver-haired hero that looks like he stepped out of the Final Fantasy character mold. Wielding the DeLorean as his vehicle and taking fashion cues from Buckaroo Bonzai, he’s a dork just obsessed enough with the game to unlock creator’s many puzzles. His pop-culture obsession has turned him into the ultimate detective of not only solving the hidden easter eggs of the game but peeling back the sordid history that led to the creation of the OASIS.
Naturally, the villain seeking this buried treasure is a greedy CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), of a rival company. He wants control of the OASIS to load it up with enough ads to make a profit and choke out the fun. Nolan doesn’t understand enough pop-culture to uncover Halliday’s fortune but has hired a whole team of researchers to make him the hippest old man in the game. While Nolan might have his employed culture contributors and even a farm of virtual slaves financially imprisoned, Wade has plucky young allies to aid him and fulfill that Amblin model of kids besting adults.
I must admit that it’s hard to talk about Ready Player One without going into full-on geek mode, getting giddy at the explosion of genre properties on screen. Much like those old Frosted Mini-Wheats commercials, there’s an adult and child raging inside me. The adult realizes that such a dystopia never truly tackles the essence of the obsession of nostalgia and its damaging effects as the cultural landscape shifts to the colder virtual world. But the child just can’t get enough of that spot-on Shining parody and The Iron Giant charging into combat. Perhaps the adult in me is merely on a futile hunt for vitamins in the sugary adventure of CGI world and pop-culture trivia that is literally listed off in many scenes.
Less I turn this review into a listing of my favorite references - the best probably being a Rubick’s Cube dubbed the Zemeckis cube that can turn back time while playing Alan Silvestri’s notes - I can only throw my hands up and admit my coo to the kaleidoscope of cool. There’s nothing of grander value to Wade’s journey, a lacking of character definition, and a few plot holes that I’m sure will make some heads spin. Mine is firmly in place because my eyes can’t leave the screen for its dazzling special effects where Spielberg pulls all his tricks out of the bag. And unlike other directors that struggle to be hip with the kids, Spielberg has proven he still hasn’t lost a step in his filmmaking for young people thirsty for adventure. Or young at heart, in my case.