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Movie Review: Ready Player One

Spielberg takes us on a pop culture rollercoaster ride.

Ready Player One is a giddy sensory overload. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s cult novel packs an eye blasting amount of pop cult ephemera into its 2 hours and 20 minutes run time and yet still finds time to craft an adventure worthy of his directorial canon. Everything from Monty Python to Gundam, from Minecraft to Stanley Kubrick finds a place in Ready Player One without any of them stepping on the others too much. 

Tye Sheridan stars in Ready Player One as Wade, though in the virtual world, known as ‘The Oasis,’ he is known as Parzival. In the world of Ready Player One, everything in the outside world has been discovered, consumed and abandoned, thus a man named Halliday (Mark Rylance) created The Oasis, an online world filled with adventure and commerce that has essentially replaced the real world.

Parzival is what is known in the oasis as a Ghunter, short for egg hunter. When Halliday passed away several years prior to the events of this story, he left behind three easter eggs hidden inside the oasis. The first egg is at the end of a seemingly impossible to finish race, which Parzival competes in regularly, alongside his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe). If one were to capture all three eggs, they would then inherit billions of dollars and control of the oasis.

Standing in Parzival’s way is a company called IOI and headed up by the weasel CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsosohn). IOI wants control of the oasis for the same reason any evil corporation in any movie wants anything. The motivation is unnecessary, the story necessitates a villain and Sorrento fills the bill. That his company wants to put ads over every inch of the VR experience of the Oasis is intended as a subtle slight to marketers on the current internet.

This being a fantasy adventure about a teenage boy, there is naturally a love interest. The brilliant Olivia Cooke stars here as Artemis, aka Samantha in the real world. While Artemis is a total badass inside and outside of the oasis, the script by Zak Penn and Ready Player One author Ernest Cline, nevertheless reduces her to the prize to be won at the end by the heroic teenage boy. Because, you know, fan service.

That’s not to take anything away from Cooke, who does her best to imbue Artemis with qualities that go beyond being just ‘the girl.’ It’s the script that lets Cooke down as it rushes through the romance seemingly because an adventure story like this has to have a romance and it certainly can’t be between Parzival and Aech, who almost have a John Hughes-Some Kind of Wonderful vibe, especially when Aech worries over whether Artemis might not be a girl, an admittedly problematic and eye-roll inducing fear.

Lena Waithe is excellent as Aech, despite the thin characterization from the screenwriters. Penn and Cline seem to love the notion of pseudo-catfishing people, thus Aech, along with several other characters, are one way in terms of character in the oasis and something completely unexpected in the real world. That’s why I was very happy not to meet T.J Miller’s real world character, as he seems positioned throughout the film to be a lame hit job on internet trolls, badasses under the cover of V.R and living in their mom’s basement when they’re not. That’s a cute idea, but there is enough of Miller’s own voice to imply jokes just as funny.

Despite the occasionally problematic script, with its rushed and forced romantic plot, Ready Player One is a feast for the eyes and a rollercoaster for your pop memories. Seemingly everything we’ve ever loved pops up somewhere in Ready Player One. Pokemon, Minecraft, Doom, Gundam, Monty Python, Back to the Future, King Kong, and dozens of Atari products get major shout outs throughout Ready Player One.

Then, there is the special section dedicated to the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Arguably the best sequence in what is a movie filled with strong sequences, the main cast inside the oasis travels to the Overlook Motel from The Shining where they encounter the virtual horrors of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick with real consequences should they stumble into the fabled Room 237, or fall prey to the elevator of blood.

This sequence also quite neatly references Stephen King’s problems with the movie adaptation by using King’s ambivalence toward Kubrick’s movie as an important plot point. I should say, the script isn’t entirely problematic, just parts of it. Other parts, like this undoubtedly Spielberg driven Kubrick homage, are rather brilliant. The book version of Ready Player One centered on the movie War Games, but it was such a simple homage that it’s easily swapped between the two movies.

I have other minor issues with Ready Player One, but mostly I was very entertained. Ready Player One reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s other great adventures, including the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies, even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Jurassic Park. The kid in a candy store aesthetic works for Spielberg and the film plays like a roller coaster ride of the best kind, with only occasional queasiness. 

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