Let me begin by saying I have not read the book, Ready Player One. I am aware of the many significant changes made in the film. It will not, however, influence my review of the film. With that out of the way, let us begin!
Ready Player One is a movie absolutely drenched in pop culture, 80s nostalgia, anime references, and game culture. It is a real treat for anyone who is into any of those things. If you are into all of them (like me) it is worth seeing just to spot all the awesome stuff you will feel a little too nerdy for recognizing. The question, then, is will it be good for those who are into none of those things?
While Ready Player One is a love letter to all things nerdy it is also a good movie. It tells it’s story in ways that are universal and easy to follow. If you have never played a video game and were not around for the 80s you will still have a good time at the theater. This is largely due to the timeless themes and fun characters.
The Plot (9/10)
Ready Player One takes place in the not so distant future year of 2044. The world has seen better days and the lives of the average citizens are not so great. Nearly everyone has taken to entering a virtual world called Oasis in order to escape their dim reality. The creator of Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) died some years back and left behind a contest, to find a hidden easter egg. The egg comes with a cash prize of $500,000,000 and complete control of Oasis.
A young orphan named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives with his aunt in the stacks, a sort of mobile home high rise for poor people. He is unhappy with this life and dreams of winning the prize. Wade spends most of his time in Oasis, trying to discover the clues needed to find the elusive egg. The first of three keys needed to find the egg is known to be hidden in a race and so Wade and his friend Aech (Lena Waithe) enter the race.
Before the race Wade spots a character he thinks he recognizes. As the race progresses he becomes certain that the racer on the red motorcycle (Kaneda’s bike from Akira!) is in fact a famous player known as Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). Art3mis is saved from a near fatal encounter with King Kong by Wade, but her bike is trashed in the process.
Wade learns that the mega corporation Innovative Online Industries, IOI, plans to find the egg and use it for profit. The three of them are then joined by a few friends, Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki). The team then sets out to solve the clues and get to the egg before the profit hungry IOI.
While the general plot of Ready Player One is definitely just a new take on a classic, it is done exceptionally well. The characters are believable and fun. The challenges they face are tricky but not insurmountable, and the payoff is earned and worth it. Some of the heroes feel a little lacking in development. Sho and Daito in particular could have used a bit more back story.
The villains are a little weaker. Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is the head of IOI and feels just a little too evil. His in game contact I-Rok (T.J. Miller) is excellently acted and fun to watch. F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen), who is tasked with hunting down the protagonist in the real world is a great character too, but feels a tad stiff.
The few problems I have with the plot are securely in spoiler territory, so I wont get into them here. They are minor and a bit nit-picky, but worth mentioning in the spoiler section. Look for that at the end of the review.
The Performances (8/10)
The acting in Ready Player One is outstanding all around. Each of the actors feels believable and real. They are fun to watch and the delivery of every line is at least good, but usually great.
Tye Sheridan does a great job as protagonist Wade Watts. He is believable as a somewhat awkward teen living in an uncomfortable situation. When he enters Oasis he is believable as a slightly more confidant version of himself. He becomes the character of Parzival, an idealized version of himself and is instantly relate-able to anyone who has ever played online games.
Olivia Cooke is equally captivating as Art3mis. A smart, tough and worldly character in Oasis who is overflowing with a sort of easy confidence. She manages to be a tough female who is still charming and not at all abrasive. Outside of Oasis her real world counter part, Samantha Cook, is just as tough and determined, but also slightly vulnerable and self conscious. Olivia Cooke does a fantastic job of portraying both sides.
As I mentioned earlier Ben Mendelsohn plays the overly evil head of IOI. His performance in and out of Oasis is solid. I feel that the one note and paper thin feel of the character is more of a script issue than a performance one. His screen presence is good and he really does a great job of selling the two faced nature of the corporate greed that drives his character.
T.J. Miller plays I-Rok, the only character that we never get to see in the real world. His delivery of some, at times, comedic dialogue could have lowered or elevated his character considerably. I am happy to say he elevated it to the ceiling. Funny things happen throughout the entirety of the movie, but T.J. Miller expertly delivers some of the funniest lines.
The other comic relief character is Aech, played by Lena Waithe. She does a great job of delivering subtle but humorous lines as well as some more straight comedy during a particular section. She is also good in the real world scenes, but does not get a whole lot to do there, limiting her performance.
The Effects (10/10)
If you have seen the trailers you know what to expect. Ready Player One is full of the kind of not-quite-real that gamers are used to seeing. The sequences that take place inside of Oasis are clearly computer generated and fit the theme excellently. With one exception.
A sequence in the film takes place in a location from a classic horror film. This sequence is incredibly detailed. It is a fantastic example of joining live action and CG together in a convincing way. I think. If the entire sequence was a digital recreation it fooled me, and that is no easy task!
Ready Player One is absolutely full of characters from games, movies and anime. Each one of these characters are recognizable and none outstay their welcome, with all but a few being quick cameos. I found myself nudging my son and my wife excitedly many times, whispering what a particular weapon, character or vehicle was from. I was absolutely delighted by the number of references the film made that made me feel included. More than any film I have ever seen Ready Player One made me feel engaged and part of the action.
The Nerd Factor
Ready Player One is a treat for the nerdy senses. The visuals, music, plot points and overall feel of the film are overwhelmingly nerdy. The obvious people who are going to readily spot these things are the usual nerd types. Anyone who is into gaming, anime, sci-fi and/or 80s films will recognize a good number of the obvious references.
What makes the film really great, however, is not the number or type of easter eggs, it is how they are presented. Since the world of Oasis is entirely digital it works with a sort of anything goes mentality. As a result it seems perfectly reasonable that you could end up in a race with Bigfoot, Kaneda’s bike, the Back to the Future Delorean and Speed Racer’s Mach 5. It is perfectly sensible that Freddy Kruger would jump at you in the middle of a firefight on a distant planet. Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted.
This helps to bridge the gap between the super nerdy viewers, like myself, and the not so nerdy. While I took to outright blurting out a few particularly obscure or nostalgic things, those who are not so nerdy will get a kick out of the things they remember from days past. The more you recognize the better the film will feel, but it is still good even if you recognize nothing.
Ready Player One is a movie that will entertain at worst and bring pure overwhelming joy at best. It is not a perfect movie by any means, but the flaws are so small that they are easily overlooked. When it is all said and done I feel that Ready Player One is the type of movie that just about everyone can enjoy, but will be VERY special to a select few.
—-There Be Spoilers Below—
I mentioned earlier that the few issues I had with the plot were deep in spoiler territory. Well now is your last chance to turn back, though I would say these spoilers are pretty light. Still, you have been warned.
At one point Wade is asked to have a chat with Sorrento. The chat occurs with Sorrento talking to a hologram of Parzival in his real world office. It is a crucial scene because Wade manages to see and memorize a piece of crucial information. The problem is that holograms can’t see. While Perzival may have been present in the room with Sorrento, Wade was not, meaning that Wade would only have seen what was displayed in his headset and not what was actually in the real world.
The second plot point has to do with statistics. With most of the world logging in to Oasis it is extremely unlikely that the people you meet there will live anywhere near you, let alone in the same city. Yet all of our heroes just happen to live in the same city, even the two asian characters who have accents suggesting they are not from there. I suppose that they could have made the trip to the city so that they could all work together, but even then Helen, Samantha and Wade are all in the same city already.
Pretty minor things, I know. I suppose that the emitters for the holograms could have had cameras on them, but it seems pretty unlikely. I also suppose, like I said, that the resistance could have chosen Columbus Ohio as a base because Samantha was there, but it seems like a pretty big coincidence that Wade and Helen are there too…