Science-fiction action film Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name, tells the story of Oasis, a virtual reality world that has gripped the globe. When the creator dies, he challenges all users to find the Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn, the movie was released on March 28, 2018.
Okay, now I understand the reactive hype surrounding Ready Player One. This movie is a nerd’s dream, fantasy and rebellion against ravenous gaming corporations all rolled up into one expansive movie. The appeal is glaring; it touches the hearts of generations growing up and those before us, dipping us in deep, sticky nostalgia so much that we cannot help but let our reminiscing devour us. Due to my surprised enjoyment, I immediately went to IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes and downvoted on A Wrinkle In Time because, well, I am petty.
On a less sarcastic note, I was hesitant to be optimistic about Spielberg’s latest movie because of the trailer, which felt like a product of the generic teenage adventure movies we have to suffer with at present; the unforgivably lackluster ending of The Hunger Games series and the abhorrent Divergent series. So rather than wanking into a sock on Twitter beforehand, I did what every responsible film critic should do and watch it first. Oh, how I was proven wrong about this.
It takes a while to immerse yourself in the film. You have to enable yourself to connect with the characters both in the real world and virtual reality. Once you move past the overlong narrative exposition by the main character, you can luxuriate and let the fun begin. The first ideology that came to mind about Ready Player One is that the narrative does not feel far removed from our reality. In the story, the world is infested with VR-type headsets, grabbing young and older generations and exposing them to a virtual reality worth fighting for. You meet young teenager Wade with the gamer name Parzival (Tye Sheridan) who exemplifies the typical passionate gamer, that prides himself on his own knowledge, skill and confidence. His avatar represents the expressive side of his personality, whilst in real life, he is reserved, kind and suppressed.
He is as determined as all the other thousands of Oasis users to crack the Easter egg to gain the fortunes of the dead creator. There is also a uniformed gaming company that is hiring a clan of gamers to crack the elusive clues with the intention to control Oasis and fashion it in their own way. The owner of this company is the archetypal villain you’d come to expect. Wade also makes a romantic friendship with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who has similar objectives. Does a world run by VR gaming sound like a story set in 2045 or something that feels oddly closer?
You have to embrace the fact that Ready Player One is designed to baste in pop cultural references and advertising or you will be miserable all the way through it. In the first twenty minutes, you witness a Pizza Hut box delivered to someone’s door by drone, and then when you see Minecraft flashing before you in VR mode, and you realise this is a key theme. However, this is not off-putting, cheap, or a ploy to make you buy products; it is relevant to the story. The users are playing in multiple gaming worlds where they can be anything they like; Doom, Halo, Overwatch, the list goes on. Even famous movies are thrown in, with one being such an enjoyable plot point that I sank into my chair and drank it. The one safety net Ready Player One has is that even if you do not enjoy it, you will spend a good time recognising references, giving the occasional smirk. This is a film for game and film lovers alike.
Ready Player One is about its messages too. In a world where gamers are protesting against “added value” coin systems, additional charged game content and steeping prices, you can sense that this a **** you to game corporations. Its underlying message is that games were always created to be enjoyed, not to empty your pockets and become a slave to the creators who made them. There is a real sense of gaming community in the movie, that resembles groups of people in real life that hold a common goal; games and movies. Wade and Art3mis typify this, as they are able to relate to each other in Avatar mode, and you always question if that is possible in person. Also, the entire virtual world is like one monstrous, engulfing MMORPG, so the entire film setting is a community.
The performances lack conviction because it is intended to leave an impression visually. The cast provides serviceable characters, however, they are a little generic and predictable. Amongst the game graphics, references, and missions, it’s as much about the gags and action than character development. You could argue that personalities are hampered by the action scenes, but you’d find it difficult to criticise the story progression. The two lead characters do enough to drive it forward. One of the few negatives is that the film does struggle to merge between real life and VR, with one outweighing the other proportionally. On the plus side, this means you eventually find an emotional connection with the Avatar versions of the characters, but when it reverts to them as a person, sometimes the connection between the two feels rather off. I guess this cannot be helped because most gamers do not look or act like their avatars. Ready Player One is also twenty minutes too long, with the ending so dragged-out that I was itching for it to reach the conclusion.
Spielberg’s latest delivers in such an effective way that it somehow makes people living life as their avatars feel interesting. Spielberg may indulge in every pop culture reference imaginable, including his own work, but he has made it a non-irritating experience. Ready Player One showcases what the world would be like if gamers took over. Nerds rejoice, this is your movie.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.