“Ready Player One”
By Jason Wiese
If you were to ask me why I do what I do (that is, film criticism), among many reasons, the Number One answer is Steven Spielberg. Before I had even seen a frame of his work, I knew his name, which was enough for me to understand his influence on the medium. I would even go so far as to act out films of my own, which I was the star of, imagining that Spielberg was my director. Granted I was four years of age at the time. When I finally took up the chance to experience his work, one of which is still my favorite film of all time (Raiders of the Lost Ark), I immediately knew that his footsteps were the ones I wanted to follow.
Instead, I became a critic. Since then, I began looking at Spielberg’s work with a different eye, an eye that, since being disappointed by his fourth installment of the series that began with my favorite film of all time, has been slightly blackened, with the bruising only growing sorer with each entry that I found the time to see. Not that I was suddenly dreading his work, but merely, his work’s impression on me had lessened. I was, shamefully, bored by 2012’s Lincoln and thought that The BFG was no more than a simple children’s film. In fact, I would unearth work of his past that had previously slipped through the cracks for me, most recently his segment in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie, and find myself not as impressed as I was hoping. I had begun to question if the spell this wizard had once cast upon me had worn off.
Have I mentioned before how much I love to be proven wrong?
Ready Player One is Spielberg’s “one for them” to follow his last “one for me,” 2017’s The Post, and he really makes it something special for “them.” “Them” being “us,” of course. Ernest Cline, with co-screenwriter Zak Penn, adapts his 2011 bestselling novel that follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young man living in a 2045-set society that is just a few alterations in wardrobe and camaraderie from pure dystopia. To escape his dissatisfactory reality, Wade, and just about every other human being on the planet, logs into a virtual reality simulation called the Oasis.
Created years earlier by technological innovator and 20th century pop culture obsessive James Halliday (Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance), the Oasis is an infinite world, containing worlds within it, in which you can indulge in laser battles with mutants, enter races driving Doc Brown’s DeLorean, or even have a dance-off in zero gravity all under the guise of your own custom avatar. Since Halliday’s death, gamers have been searching for clues to find the hidden “Easter Egg” Halliday hid somewhere in the simulation. Finding the Egg grants the winner control of the Oasis. Nolan Sorrento, (Ben Mendelsohn) the current CEO of Innovative Online Industries (the company that runs the Oasis) is hellbent on making sure he can keep the Egg for himself. Well, Wade is not having that. With the help of his online friends, including new ally Art3mis (Thoroughbreds’ Olivia Cooke), Wade races against time across the virtual landscape to find the Egg and save the Oasis from corporate greed.
Ready Player One is a fitting commentary on our enduring obsession with… well, many things, but a couple things most especially. On one hand, it serves as the ultimate online gaming fantasy. The Oasis provides its users the ability to “live” in a society that allows them to partake in unimaginable activities in a place that feels more home to them than their reality, which is accented by the most gorgeous computer graphic I have seen since Avatar. On the other hand, it is an explosion of nostalgia, mostly 80s references, handled in the best possible way. For such a seemingly random assortment of easily recognizable characters and environments, no reference ever feels forced, yet is delicately engrained into the story with genuine importance. Watching these properties which individually originated from drastically different worlds interact in the same space is proof that dreams do come true. For it all to be brought to life in such an exquisite fashion by a pop culture god is my dream come true.
Spielberg nails it here, which it something I have not said in a long time. His warmly welcome, signature popcorn movie magic that earned him his iconic status is so present, it encompasses you like the VR simulation our heroes thrive in. He approaches the story with a grand understanding of the meaning that nostalgia holds, which only makes sense considering many of his own creations serve as an obvious influence to Cline’s story. I can only imagine what it must be like to have your own words brought to life on the screen by one of your own heroes.
Is this a particularly perfect film? No. Do I have nitpicks? Yes. Do I care? Not in the slightest. Not only do I love this movie, but for a pop culture junkie like me who gets unflinchingly excited by the site of things like Batman snowboarding down the Pyramids to avoid getting ripped apart by Freddy Krueger (for instance), this movie is love. Ready Player One is not just filled, but is overflowing with heart, brazen excitement and, most importantly, a genuine empathy and appreciation for its target audience.
I am ready for another round.