What a blast!
From the moment Van Halen’s Jump greets us in the opening credits to the very end, Ready Player One is as smile inducing as movies come. It’s full of pop culture references and wonderfully creative action, often to the beat of ‘80s rock music. This is director Steven Spielberg at his finest, reminding us that he created the summer blockbuster (Jaws) and pure action extravaganzas (Raiders of the Lost Ark). We’ve missed this type of greatness from him.
The year is 2045, and society is in ruins. People live in stacked housing in Columbus, Ohio, because it’s the fastest growing city in the world, even though the only direction it can grow is up. To escape the doldrums of reality people enter the “Oasis,” a virtual reality play land created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) in which individuals can be anything they desire – the only limit is one’s imagination.
Before he died five years ago, Halliday hid an “Easter Egg” somewhere in the Oasis. The first person to find the three keys needed to get to the egg, and successfully unlock it, will win half a trillion dollars and control of the Oasis. So naturally, darn near everyone is looking for it.
The sides are clear. Good guy Parzival (Tye Sheridan) gets the first key by figuring out how to prevail in a car race in which, to quote him, “no one ever makes it past Kong.” He later shares the secret to survival with friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe). In doing so Parzival and co. become the target of Nolan Sorrento’s (Ben Mendelsohn) evil corporation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI).
Audiences will come for the action and visual effects, and will not be disappointed. What they will not necessarily expect – especially if they haven’t read Ernest Cline’s novel on which the movie is based – are the ample references to retro movies and video games. There’s a sense of nostalgia in this playfulness, and also an earnest attempt to honor the impact of these pop culture artifacts in a meaningful way.
For example, I can’t imagine a child of the ‘80s not smiling when he/she realizes Parzival drives a Back to the Future-inspired DeLorean; in the background of an apartment scene you’ll see a Mayor Goldie Wilson poster as well. There are also Beetlejuice, Alien and Buckaroo Banzai nods, among many others. And the brilliant way Cline and Zak Penn’s script pays homage to “The Shining” will make you want to stand up and cheer.
The only complaint about Ready Player One is minor: The middle section gets a bit bogged down and struggles to maintain energy. And how couldn’t it after such a gangbusters opening? Thankfully it’s always creative, and the ending more than picks up the slack.
Ready Player One is such an imaginative, joyful movie that it is escapism in its purest form. Better, it reveres the escapism we’ve so greatly enjoyed in the past. People at my screening were literally cheering during the finale, especially when certain famous characters appeared. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this – and be sure to see it on as big a screen as possible!