The golden rule of film should be “Never Doubt Steven Spielberg”.
Spielberg, who’s stuck to smaller films since 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, makes his grand return to the blockbuster filmmaking with “Ready Player One”. The film, which is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Ernest Cline, has attracted controversy from the very beginning.
Many have accused the film of being of a hollow cash-in on nostalgia, others have criticized the animation. Suffice to say, there was a significant amount of tension at the Paramount when the lights dimmed. Then, something magical happened.
The adventure starts in Columbus, Ohio in 2045. In a world rife with overpopulation, humanity settles for escaping into the OASIS- a virtual reality simulation that serves up a limitless supply of worlds, often populated by characters and locales from pop culture, to explore. When its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he leaves behind a quest to find three keys that form a path to a virtual “Easter Egg”. Once the egg is acquired, the winner receives full control of the OASIS, as well as Halliday’s vast fortune.
The world of “Ready Player One” is rich with possibility. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński establish two juxtaposing worlds: the gray of the modern world and the rich colors of the OASIS. The latter is somewhat of a technical marvel, and it should be- it’s created by Industrial, Light & Magic after all.
The litany of references in the OASIS is every nerd’s dream, and it’s tempting to be caught up in mainstays such as the DeLorean, Iron Giant, and the Battletoads all next to each other. However, before introducing the film, Spielberg himself warned against focusing on the “side windows” of pop culture and instead focusing on the “windshield” of story. That metaphor is very applicable here, because the story is really where this movie earns its stripes.
One of the many Easter egg hunters, or “gunters”, is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teenage pop culture fanatic living in the slums who, with his best online friend Aech, has been attempting beat the first challenge to get the key: an impossible race where the presence of King Kong on the racetrack kills any chances of winning. After winning the race, Watts catches the attention of fellow gunter Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), but also catches the attention of IOI Industries CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who wants to take control of the OASIS for his own nefarious purposes. As Art3mis and Wade grow closer, Sorrento closes in, and the quest to reach the egg becomes a quest for the survival of the OASIS.
The race could serve as a highlight reel for everything that works in “Ready Player One”. The action is visceral and surprisingly inventive, with the challenge solved in a very unexpected way, while the leads have perfect chemistry. Sheridan makes for a solid protagonist, clearly relishing the chance to get to play around in Spielberg’s sandbox. Cooke, on the other hand, continues to prove herself as one of Hollywood’s most talented up-and-coming actresses with a snarky, intensely likeable heroine.
Their budding romance anchors the audience to the wild ride Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline himself take them on. A scenery-chewing, in a good way, Mendelsohn and hilarious T.J. Miller as Sorrento’s hired gun in the OASIS ,i-R0k, give chase to the young heroes across a series of wacky set pieces that I refuse to spoil here. All one needs to know is that Spielberg is well and truly back in the business of great action sequences.
Yes, “Ready Player One” has quite the spectacle, but what really makes it stand out amongst the pack is its sincerity. This film’s heart could be seen from space, and it has a legitimate story to tell about friendship triumphing any sort of virtual escape. You may laugh, you may cry, but it’d be surprising if you didn’t walk away with some sort of enjoyment.
“Ready Player One” doesn’t just reference films of the 1980s, it harkens back to a bygone era of film-making that emphasized telling a feel-good story over anything else. Steven Spielberg hasn’t been in this fine of form since “Jurassic Park”, and it’s great to have him back.
“Ready Player One”
Running Time: 144 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Score: 4.5/5 stars