Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg
Warner Bros. Pictures
Depending on who you ask, Ready Player One is either a fun science fiction adventure and loving tribute to the nerd culture of the 1980s, or the personification of everything wrong with modern geek culture and nostalgia. Regardless, the moment Steven Spielberg announced he would be doing a movie adaptation, I was intrigued. America’s greatest living filmmaker, the man who made turning airport novels into generational cinematic touchstones, tackling a book that partly serves as a love letter to nostalgia for an era he helped define, it made one hell of a selling point, at least if Spielberg could stick the landing.
Luckily, with Ready Player One, not only does Spielberg stick the landing, he delivers a rip-roaring adventure that may be the most entertaining movie he’s made in over 20 years.
Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, or as he’s known in the virtual reality world of the OASIS, Parzival, as he joins the ranks of millions of gamers questing to be heir to the throne of the world’s late trillionaire creator James Halliday. Alongside a group of his friends, he makes the first breakthrough in the contest, making him the most famous player in the OASIS, and the biggest target of corporate suits like Nolan Sorrento who seek to win the contest and twist the OASIS to their own ends. Risking fame, fortune, the fate of the world, and their very lives, Wade and his friends are in a race to the finish, and on the journey of a lifetime.
There are some bits that Ready Player One changed from the book that I liked, such as making the challenges for the keys more streamlined and cinematic, as well as giving characters like Art3mis and Daito more to do. There are other things I didn’t like that they changed, with the major one being really downplaying the dystopian aspects of the novel, the world of Ready Player One in the movie never feels like the broken, impoverished dying world people needed an escape from in the OASIS. That said, Ready Player One absolutely nails the most important thing, the OASIS being this vivid virtual world where the only limits are your imagination, and making it a place worth fighting for. There are some bits of coincidence in the movie that raise questions, but the movie moves at a brisk enough pace that it can be forgiven.
Part of that comes from the fact we’ve got a motley crew of heroes and scenery chewing bad guys who act and feel like they’re straight out of a classic Spielberg movie.
Tye Sheridan is charming enough as Wade/Parzival, and he really shines playing off the other members of the cast. Olivia Cooke gives Samantha/Art3mis some sass and personality that she was occasionally missing in the books, and she steals any scene she’s in. My personal favorite though was Lena Waithe as Aech, though I am somewhat disappointed that the movie downplays the big twist from the novel with the character.
Ben Mendelsohn is clearly having fun as scowling corporate suit Nolan Sorrento, and between this and Rogue One, is cementing himself as great actor for such villains. T.J. Miller and Hannah John-Kamen acquit themselves well as two of Sorrento’s henchmen.
Really, the only big disappointment among the cast is Mark Rylance who plays James Halliday, the deceased creator of the OASIS. In the book, Halliday comes across as a mix of Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes and Willy Wonka, but for whatever reason, Rylance has chosen to play him as a borderline autistic weirdo, and he just drags down ever scene he’s in. I’m not sure what dirt he has on Spielberg to keep getting lead roles, but I’m getting tired of Mark Rylance dragging down every Spielberg movie by playing bored, tired old men who mumble their dialog.
That said, the most important thing here is that Spielberg was clearly firing on all cylinders for Ready Player One. As huge as nostalgia for the 1980s has been in pop culture in recent years, Spielberg clearly took Ready Player One as a chance to thumb his chest a little, and scream “I INVENTED IT!”, as well as acting as both a love letter and an evaluation of such nostalgia.
There are moments in Ready Player One that are utterly jaw-dropping—a race scene in the first ten minutes of the movie, and the climactic final battle are worth splurging on IMAX 3D alone. The movie is colorful and creatively designed from start to finish, the action scenes are frenetic and creatively staged, and the references, when they drop, are a joy to watch unfold.
Ready Player One isn’t a perfect movie, anymore than it was a perfect book, but much like the Ernest Cline novel, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies in ages. I had a gigantic grin on my face from about the five minute mark onward, and I’ve already made plans to see it again with friends. I don’t care if you’re a nut for nostalgia, or are just looking to have a blast at the movies, Ready Player One is just what you’re looking for.