Directed by nostalgia extraordinaire Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One packs in the best of pop culture from the 1980s and 1990s. The film is based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name—which was so-so at best. However, because of its nostalgia factor, the film is one of the rare times that an adaptation works better than the written source material.
Set in 2045, the world is obsessed with a digital Easter egg hunt left behind by virtual reality magnate James Halliday (Mark Rylance). The sole winner will inherit control over his creation, OASIS, as well as half a trillion dollars. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) was just another Gunter (derived from “egg-hunter”) until he figured out the first clue of three clues to the egg. His success doesn’t unnoticed by the power-hungry Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of Innovative Online Industries.
Drowned in nostalgia, Ready Player One’s charm draws from cameo after cameo of popular characters from the past and present. From Jason Voorhees to Hello Kitty to Overwatch’s Tracer, the film is a geek fest from start to finish. Regardless of which era you grew up in, there’s something to love in Ready Player One.
There’s an odd sense of awe from seeing all these properties from the past make an appearance on the big screen. Removed from torrent of nostalgic squeals, Ready Player One is obviously and unabashedly a fan service movie. A lot of cameos felt tacked on just so they can illicit a response from the audience—which we all did.
The callbacks elevated the film onto a new plane. However, having so much potentially takes away from the plot.
Thankfully, several of the used properties were incorporated into the story. For example, you can expect defining roles from Gundam and The Iron Giant, which were both featured heavily in the film’s marketing.
Arguably, the film’s brightest spots involved a shot-for-shot cameo sequence of a cult film from the ‘80s. (No spoilers here.) Wade and his gang of Gunters realize that the second clue points to one of Halliday’s favorite films. In a surprise turn, they find themselves inside the film in question. Seeing entire shots from the film pop up in a meaningful way brightened the second act extraordinarily.
Sadly, for all of its callbacks, Ready Player One’s plot doesn’t hold a lot of water. Outside of the OASIS, the film’s characters aren’t a spirited bunch you can root for. The film’s conflict draws heavily from the mere fact that Wade is the good guy and that IOI is the evil corporation. It’s the traditional good vs. evil route.
To its credit, the film had a scene where Sorrento proposed an evil plot to cover 80 percent of a gamer’s screen with ads. It’s a hilariously spoofy take on the world’s crackdown on ads. Sadly, this spoofy version of the evil corporation didn’t make it past the ten-second scene. IOI remains the generic corporation who wants to rule the real world.
This tired trope knocks down the third act by a few notches. The sequences for the first and second clues were ingenious. It had a lot of creative charm.
Unfortunately, the third act felt like a shoe-horned big battle just because there needed to be one. It had its moments powered by callbacks, but none that stood out as a tug-of-war between wits and brawn.
After the dust has settled, Ready Player One wants to impart the message that the real world is infinitely better than the virtual OASIS. “Reality is the only place where you can get a decent meal,” it says.
However, the message falls apart after the film’s gigantic effort to portray the OASIS as beautiful as possible. The real world (and the film’s scenes that correspond to the real world) just doesn’t seem as interesting as the OASIS. Instead of a cautionary tale against the allure of technology, Ready Player One plays off as a massive ad for the same technology.
We want the OASIS more than ever. And this says a lot about the film, too. We wanted more of the OASIS, more callbacks, and more cameos.
Overall, Ready Player One isn’t the film you would praise for an excellent exercise in filmmaking. It is, however, the film that you would want to rewatch and tell your grandkids about. It’s exactly the film that you paid for.