It is virtually impossible to see Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s wild ride into the world of virtual reality, just once. There is so much going on in this movie, both retro and futuristic, that it is hard to compute in one sitting. A pop culture treasure hunt of the past 30 years as seen through the prism of a VR Disneyland called Oasis, Ready Player One rotates from the real world of 2045 to a virtual one filled with references to movies, music, personalities, memories and events that made me think my life was passing in front of my eyes in some sort of Felliniesque fever dream.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (adapting the latter’s 2011 novel) have packed so much in — from Back to the Future to The Shining, from Michael Jackson to Prince, from Buckaroo Banzai to Batman, Godzilla to Jurassic Park and so much more — that I can’t even begin to recount it all here. Suffice to say even The Iron Giant is given new life right alongside Mechagodzilla and other icons from the not-to-distant past, all packaged into our VR future as envisioned as a theme park of sorts you visit through special glasses.
It’s called Oasis — the dream (or nightmare) vision of James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a man who kept note of every movie, TV show, song lyric, toy, catchphrase and any other encounter he had during his lifetime. He is the geek of geeks, the ultimate collector, who had it all in his fingertips and never let it go. After his death he bequeaths the golden Easter egg in this massive video game to end all video games to the person who can collect three keys, an almost impossible task to decipher the riddles he has provided in a virtual will. Into the picture comes Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old whiz who, using his avatar Parzival, sets out from his trailer park on steroids to get away from it all in Oasis, trying to crack the code. He soon shows he is well ahead of the pack in getting to the finish line, where the ultimate prize is half a trillion dollars.
Along for the ride is another avatar named Aech (Lena Waithe), a kind of awkward, robot-y protector, as well as the red-haired, wide-eyed anime-styled girl known by her avatar, Art3mis (a terrific Olivia Cooke). Eventually we meet her in the real world as Sam, and she and Wade/Parzival clearly are made to travel these trails together. Standing in their way is sleazy corporate villain Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who is bound and determined to get the prize himself but knows he must co-opt Parzival (who makes a key mistake by revealing his real-world identity) to do it. Along the way there’s a massive car race involving the DeLorean of Michael J. Fox’s dreams, the Batmobile and other famous wheels. There also is a dazzling ode to Saturday Night Fever and Bee Gees music. Best of all is a brilliant sequence set right in the heart of The Shining, as a clue leads to a movie theater and a trip straight into a horror movie, with Parzival and company immersed into everything Kubrickian. It goes on and on. You’ll be exhausted trying to keep up with all, but also exhilarated.
Spielberg proves to be the perfect director to the get to the essence of what is really a movie, a visual effects-driven playground for anyone who loves the legacy of film and looks forward to the infinite possibilities of its future. Ready Player One meets our pop culture at the crossroads and knocks it out of the park. Sheridan is ideally cast as Wade/Parzival, and so is Cooke, also great in the current Thoroughbreds. Mendelsohn is deliciously slimy, and Rylance nails it as usual. Also very fine is Simon Pegg, who turns up as Halliday’s former partner Ogden Morrow. The production values here are as good as it gets in movies — but considering who is calling the shots, are you really surprised? It’s a blast.
Producers are Donald De Line, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Dan Farah and Spielberg. Warner Bros releases the Village Roadshow/Amblin Entertainment production on Thursday.
Do you plan to see Ready Player One? Let us know what you think.