Film Review: ‘Ready Player One’ Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
When the first trailer dropped for Ready Player One, I was incredibly intrigued by its premise and seemingly endless string of video game and pop culture references riddled throughout, not to mention none other than the likes of Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair. Therefore, I sought out the 2011 best-selling book by Ernest Cline. Since I’m not one to often sit down and read a book (as much as I wish I were), I ended up listening to the audiobook (fantastically narrated by Wil Wheaton) and fell in love with the characters and world that Cline had created and became even more excited for the film.
Book fans, my references to the book will be minimal and just enough to say what I need to say about what worked and didn’t work in the film. For a full in-depth *spoilerific* review, please check out Steve Kelley’s review here.
From the opening beat of Van Halen’s “Jump” (which was the perfect song to set the tone of the movie), the film begins with quite a bit of world-building exposition (not nearly as much as the book, thankfully) and has to do so doubly. Not only do they have to introduce the dystopian reality of the world in 2045, but they also have to introduce the Oasis – an indefinitely large virtual-reality world that hosts thousands upon thousands of other users and their virtual avatars as they escape from the real world and its harsh reality.
The film follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a shy young high schooler who lives with his aunt and her flavor of the week boyfriend in what’s known as “The Stacks,” a quite literal name for the community of stacked trailers. Things aren’t great for Wade in reality, but the Oasis allows him to be whatever he wants to be and do whatever he wants to do. So he (as do many others) spends the majority of his time logged in living an exciting life as Parzival, a “Gunter” (egg hunter) in the quest to find the hidden Easter Egg that deceased Oasis creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance, brilliant!) had hidden before he died. If you’re wondering, “Parzival” is, in fact, a play on “Percival” and his quest to find the Holy Grail. Fitting, considering whoever finds the hidden Easter Egg will have total control of the Oasis and 500 billion dollars. Needless to say, there’s a lot at stake – but nobody’s been able to figure out how to beat the first challenge. Not yet.
Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as the primary antagonist here, Nolen Sorrento, the CEO of a massive corporation called Innovative Online Industries (IOI). IOI is filled to the brim with any and all resources that could lead them to the Easter Egg. A round-the-clock plethora of paid Gunters (or Sixers, as they’re dubbed for the six-digit number on their chests all starting with a 6) are continuously searching for clues within the Oasis to lead them to the next challenge and IOI is dumping bucket loads of money into the program to ensure they come out victorious.
Of course, every story has to have a love interest, and that role is fulfilled by Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds) as Art3mis, a famous Gunter in the Oasis. Fans of the book should be happy with her character and Cooke’s performance, but I can imagine a lot of disbelief overcoming the minds of non-reader viewers as Parzival confesses his love to her almost immediately. Though the film does take a lot of time developing the worlds, time-constraints probably eliminated a lot of the development of this relationship and even left me with a slight groan and my biggest complaint about the film. It’s not just this relationship, either. Even Parzival’s relationship with his best friend in-game, Aech (pronounced H) was missing the hardships they endured at times throughout the book, including a big reveal that was just kind of casually played off in the third act of the film.
But in the end, Spielberg is on top of his game with Ready Player One and certainly elevated this movie to be something great. As a pioneer director who shaped the world of film and pop culture in the 80’s, Spielberg was the perfect choice to helm the director’s chair for a film that celebrates the era with countless nostalgia and references that never once overshadow the substance of the film. It was so much fun to see him doing an actual fun movie again.
I’ll most definitely see Ready Player One in theaters again, and several times more on blu-ray/digital. There’s so much to take in, and it’s such a thrill ride of a film. The action is scenes are fantastic, the first being a big virtual city race in which the likes of a T-Rex and King Kong himself are persistent in not allowing the player to finish. This was a necessary (and welcomed) change to the first challenge of the novel in which Parzival battles a giant demon in a classic arcade game of Joust. Don’t know what Joust is? Exactly – a necessary change, and worth every bit of it. I had a smile on my face the entire time.