Steven Spielberg’s latest is a VRery good time. The FingerGuns Review;
I didn’t expect to like Ready Player One. The trailers made is look like a melting pot of pop culture references that was unlikely to formulate anything but an incoherent mess. Those mash up posters made it it look like it was a movie trying to ride the coattails of pop culture classics. There’s been a confusing internet buzz about Ready Player One as movie and game boffins try to understand whether they’re in on the joke or are the butt of it.
Let me put your mind at rest – almost everything you’ve seen from the trailers is taken from the first 15 minutes of the movie. Ready Player One is a melting pot of pop culture references but it doesn’t lean on them for structure or story. Ready Player One pays homage to the classics without riffing or copying them. Ready Player One is a mirror that’s held up to pop culture, movies, games and the fandoms that surround them but delights in what is reflected there rather than scoffing at it. Ready Player One is the ultimate reward for a misspent youth and a celebration of the fans of pop culture.
The Premise; It’s 2045 and the world has gone to shit. Everything we’re worried about today has come to fruition – Poverty, Famine, Overpopulation, Pollution, Late Capitalism and economic collapse where the rich keep getting richer and the poorer feed off the scraps. The real world is disastrous, a place where “people stopped trying to fix problems and instead, tried to out live them” so instead of living in the real world, people have turned to escapism in the form of a Virtual Reality MMO called OASIS. Co-Created by programming genius and Pop Culture nerd James Halliday, this video game is populated by avatars of players and they can do whatever they want in a world that “is only limited by your own imagination”.
Ready Player One follows the story of Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) a pop culture obsessed latchkey teen from the real world slum called the “Stacks” but in the virtual world, a mediocre OASIS player called “Parzival” who’s on the hunt for the greatest prize both in and out of cyberspace. When James Halliday passed away, a quest activated within OASIS which will award one lucky player with the vast wealth of the deceased creator and control over the virtual world – as long as they can discover the “Easter Egg” within the game. To do so, they must unlock 3 gates with 3 keys which are awarded for passing 3 tests, the solutions to which can be found in the memories, likes, dislikes trials and tribulations of consummate nerd Halliday which have been available to all of the players of OASIS in a virtual museum.
Those who play OASIS for the sole purpose of finding this Easter Egg have earnt the name “Gunters” (Easter Egg Hunters) and they’re all competing against the world’s second biggest tech company IOI and their Oology division (set up to study Halliday’s life and try to uncover the location of the Easter Egg) lead by the ruthless corporate suit Nolan Sorrento (played by Benjamin Mendelsohn). IOI employ hundreds and bribe thousands more to work for them in pursuit of the Easter Egg in an army known as the Sixers. This nefarious company will do anything to take over the owners of the OASIS, Gregarious Simulation Systems. Parzival is joined in this race to the Egg by his best friend and master builder Aech, the professional gamer and IOI hating Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and two veteran players, Daito and Shoto. The 5 players must race to unlock the Easter Egg before IOI win control of the the game and corrupt its use.
Spielberg leans into the bleeding edge of CGI visuals with Ready Player One, creating an almost hypnotic treat for the senses and one that’s steeped, not just in pop culture, but in games design and cinematography too. While vast sections of the movie feel like cutscenes from Final Fantasy, they’re formed with the experience of film makers. From the strobing third-person shooting action on Planet Doom to a race track invaded by King Kong and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, Ready Player One is full of retina detaching visuals and breathtaking action.
Beneath the action and the ‘pop culture for pop cultures sake’ (which does feature heavily in this movie) are a few messages that shine through at poignant times in the progress of both modern day cinema and gaming. Should they be successful, IOI want to “monetize” OASIS by selling adverts all over the place against the wishes of its creators; This mirrors the current brouhaha over Loot Boxes and Microtransactions in the current day gaming industry. This is in stark contrast to those that use OASIS to escape and the Gunters that are looking to change their lives while enjoying the challenge of Halliday’s Easter Egg Hunt. It’s a movie that’ll be strangely relatable to those like me that are dreaming of a miracle lottery win to break free from the rat race and daily grind.
Ready Player One pays tribute to classic 80’s horror The Shining, a film that built suspense and atmosphere from the simplest of techniques used by the right hands, by setting an entire section of the film in the Overlook Hotel. It’s an homage to John Carpenter and his cinematic techniques in a film covered in Spielberg’s fingerprints while acknowledging both directors support of movies and video games. Lastly, and the lingering message of Ready Player One is that it’s okay to love pop culture but it’s important to separate the real from the fictional and love life over the fake. There are numerous moments in this movie when the virtual reality is far removed from reality, reality and while the world might have gone to the dogs, it’s the truth no matter how enticing escaping to a virtual world full of pop culture might be.
Speaking about the Pop culture, just a few weeks ago I joked about how frustrating it’ll be to see the film with one of those dudebro’s that feel the need to whisper/geeksplain to you about every ‘Easter Egg’. After seeing the film, I’ve realised that it’d be an impossibility for someone to call out each and every one of them because Ready Player One is full of them from curtains up to credits roll. It’s the Russian Doll of Pop Culture references – one inside another, inside another. Minecraft, Robocop, Halo, Street Fighter, Overwatch, Back to the Future, Iron Giant, Gundam, Godzilla, Worms, Star Wars (yes, Star Wars, Disney must have caved), Mortal Kombat, Terminator, Sonic, The Shining, a nod to Leroy Jenkins, Batman, Superman, Beetlejuice, Chucky, Jason and so much more get screen time, varying from a split second to half the movie. I believe I could probably double this list on a second viewing. What’s more, this doesn’t feel like cameo’s for the sake of it. There feels like there’s a beating heart filled with love for this stuff that’s pumping the rest of the movie forward.
Unfortunately, it’s the original aspects of Ready Player One that display it’s only weaknesses. The films antagonist, Nolan Sorrento, isn’t an imposing villain, either in the real world nor in the virtual one, and feels far too stereotypical. “He’ll kill you”, Wade explains to another character when describing Sorrento and at no point did that ever feel like a genuine description. He’s more likely to crunch your tax return than crush a rebellion. It’s damn near impossible to not feel sorry for Sorrento because of how feeble he is in comparison to the rest of the cast of characters. Then there’s the case of the missing Ogden “Og” Morrow (played by Simon Pegg) who either needed an expanded part or to be cut from the film all together. During parts of the movie, it’s evident that Og and Halliday, the 2 creators of OASIS, had their differences but there is parts of their relationship that needed developing further on screen and a little more explanation to how Ogden gets involved to the final third of the film.
I’ve been purposefully obtuse about some of the plot points of Ready Player One because, unlike most popcorn flicks that deliver on the action and are packed full of CGI visual splendor, I believe the story matters here and it’s no accident that the trailers have filled with clips from the first 15 minutes of the movie. If you’ve read some of the other reviews out there, the twists to Ready Player One might have already been revealed to you and if that’s true, you might enjoy it far less than I did. The marketing has been purposefully geared towards misdirection and if the surprises remain for you, I advise you read nothing more on Ready Player One until March 28th. If you’re a fan of 80’s pop culture and/or modern day gaming, Ready Player One is a 2 and a half hour celebration of everything you love underpinned by an unoriginal but well told tale. Spielberg delivers again with a movie that is far more than the sum of its pop culture parts.
Ready Player One is out at cinemas on March 28th.
Disclaimer: We attended a preview event in order to complete this review. The tickets were free. For more information, please see our review policy.