Fan Service Celebration.
Ready Player One, is at its core, a celebration of pop culture. Whether it's movies, cartoons, video games, or old candy commercials, there is very little that escapes at least some sort of mention or visual cue during the 2 hour and 19 minute film. Ready Player One is based on the book of the same name and while having a director like Steven Spielberg directing your film may seem like an instant success, it really isn't. Amid all the pop culture mentions and the ability to point out a character here and a character there, Ready Player One is actually two very different movies taking place in very different locations, with very different characters where only one of those worlds is interesting and visually pleasing. That world is the OASIS.
While much of the film takes place in Columbus Ohio in 2045, the best parts of the movie are within the OASIS itself, a VR hub-world where people look to escape their boring mundane lives and try to become something else. In fact, during almost every scene in the real world, we are shown nearly every single person plugged into the OASIS in some capacity, or at the very least, those who are affected by it. The OASIS is a form of escape and the themes of this are present throughout the whole movie and in fact, shape much of its ending and overall message.
Apart from briefly setting up the derelict and overpopulated world that the film takes place in, we are told of the death of James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS. His death triggered a scavenger hunt in the form of three challenges, each rewarding a colored key. When all three keys are collected, this will open up a vault containing an easter egg granting total ownership of the OASIS. And while it's been five years since his death, not a single player has so far come close to discovering a single key. The plot of the movie is our main characters procuring said keys and attempting to keep the reward out of the hands of the IOI, an evil tech company that is keen on turning the OASIS into a profit-driven empire.
The film mostly follows two central characters; Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and Samantha Cook (Olivia Cooke), who are known in the OASIS as Parzival and Art3mis. While we eventually learn Samantha's reasons for logging into the OASIS, Wade's is one that is far more relatable. Wade's entire world is the OASIS, he has no friends in real life and his at home situation consists of an Aunt and her verbally abusive, and financially inept, boyfriend. Wade generally doesn't stay at home and instead retreats to his own little sanctuary in a nearby junkyard; a van rigged up to allow him to dive into the OASIS.
While Sheridan really works well voicing Parzival, I couldn't get behind him as Wade. I wasn't a fan of him in the new X-Men movies and frankly, I still believe another actor could have sold the Wade character on me a bit more, possibly one that had far better chemistry with the Samantha character. Cooke, on the other hand, was actually really great, despite that awkward rooftop scene with the forced chemistry between the two. When she's attempting to help the team out while deep in enemy territory, I was really rooting for her to succeed, so I give her kudos for that. While not directly relative to Cooke herself, the Art3mis character is insanely gorgeous and one of my favorite cg characters of all time. I would watch an entire film devoted to just her character.
The supporting cast for Wade consists of his OASIS friends; Aech, Sho, and Daito. While these are all close friends to Wade's avatar Parzival, they are also people he has never met outside of the game. Wade's social circle within OASIS grows slightly bigger with the inclusion of Art3mis as he attempts to figure out the first clue. It's not long before both Parzival and Art3mis bounce theories off each other and before you know it, they have tracked down 2 keys. The chemistry between Parzival and Art3mis is great, but this is mostly due to the gorgeous computer-generated characters that feature in the OASIS. When the pair eventually meets up in the real world, their chemistry, as I've mentioned, is non-existent and any effort towards a relationship between the two just feels forced and awkward.
It's during the collection of the second key that the story shifts to one of survival, where the pair are hunted down in real life by IOI agents. This organization is led by IOI CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and he is easily the worst part of this movie. This is a villain that is on par with some of the typical movie villains you would find in 90's action comedies. In fact, his 'final' line is delivered in a scenario fitting of a Home Alone movie. I could not get behind him at all, and couldn't care less when he was on-screen.
As I mentioned prior, Ready Player One feels like two different movies running in parallel to one another. Whenever the film dove into the OASIS, I was entertained with its phenomenal sense of color and style, and not just because I would be able to point out a character I knew or that I was excited to see them in the movie. Even just watching characters dig around in their inventory is a visual delight. When the film unplugs and goes back to the real world, there wasn't anything to really keep my interest and I kept hoping the story would force them to jump back in, and thankfully, it often did.
The movie attempts to get the message across that we rely so much on digital services during our day to day that we sometimes forget what we have out in the real world, but there isn't really anything shown here to back up that argument. We see the results of what Wade was able to do with the final key, but the movie doesn't do a good job at explaining its point visually. The ending itself also causes problems due to certain rules that are implemented to the OASIS that hurt those who rely on it for their work and other financial needs.
There are also some other issues like Wade explaining how he can move around in the game via a multi-directional treadmill, but then spends the remainder of the movie standing in a van or sitting in a chair and exploring the OASIS like he was on said treadmill. There isn't anything to explain the PVP warzones and safe zones that prevent other players from griefing others while they sip a drink at the bar or take to the dance floor. The progression system built around loot and losing it all when you die makes you wonder why people make such a huge commitment to the game if you can easily lose everything you worked for in a flash. There is also so much of the inner workings of this game and its rules that just make no sense what-so-ever. While I am sure that most of these issues are covered in the book, you still have to make it known to the moviegoer how your world works.
The challenges themselves also don't make any sense. When the gaming community is given a task and even minimal ones at that, they band together and take to the Reddit boards and other forums to theorize and come up with a game plan. In the past few years alone, developers have put out challenges or puzzles that they are convinced that the community will be unable to solve for some time, only to have it cracked before the weekend is through. To think that no one would be able to solve the first riddle after five years is a flat-out impossibility. The movie indirectly makes it appear that the gaming community is unable to research or solve such simple aspects of a game. While the solutions here are fun and make for good entertainment, the fact the first clue went unsolved for so long is unbelievable given what gamers today can figure out, let alone those from 30 years from now.
My main issue of the film is in its reliance on convenience. The biggest offender to that could be considered a light spoiler, so please tread carefully if you want this to be a surprise, but trust me, you'll see it coming a mile away. Ok, still with me? So when Wade and Samantha are running from the IOI agents, Wade runs into not only Aech, or Sho, but Daito as well. Turns out, they all live nearby in the same city. I rolled my eyes as not only have these people not ever met (although, It is never assumed that Aech, Daito, and Sho haven't met before) but they just happen to live in the same city as Wade? The movie seemed at every turn to favor convenience over logic and it doesn't pay off other than to push the plot along to the next big spectacle.
Regardless of taking place in the OASIS or the real world, the film is wonderfully shot and has a confident sense of framing, but with a director like Spielberg, that's a given. The OASIS is still the best part of the movie both in its scope and just how gorgeous it is. The real world has very little to impress other than the Stacks, the vertical trailer park, and that loses its luster very quickly. The soundtrack for the movie is beyond amazing and features one hit song after another. It might be one of the best movie soundtracks I've ever heard.
Despite my issues with the film, Ready Player One is an enjoyable movie regardless of its numerous flaws. The live action stuff isn't terrible, but it pales in comparison to anything shown in the OASIS. The action of the massive race or the full-on attack on Planet Doom is some of the best fun I've ever witnessed on screen. It really is worth it alone just for those two moments. There is also a part of the film where they dive into an old movie that is really well shot and made for some solid laughs, even If I've never seen that particular film. I don't love the movie, but I do love certain aspects of it. My initial draw to the movie was getting to see characters like Tracer or Lara Croft, or even Spawn on-screen together and while those moments are cool, they also symbolize what this film is. It's cool, it's interesting to see, but it's the exact definition of style over substance.