Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe
Runtime: 140 min
In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone ... The only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) left his immense fortune and control of the OASIS to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir.
When unlikely hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.
Steven Spielberg hasn't directed a science-fiction film since 2005's War of the Worlds so obviously, my expectations were high for this adaptation of the famous novel written by Ernest Cline, who also co-writes the screenplay for this movie. Well, I am going straight to the topic that everyone is going to talk about for weeks: the pop culture references and Easter Eggs spread throughout the film.
Even before the movie started, I was already focused like a hawk. I knew that a ton of references would show up, so my eyes were constantly looking at the background for hidden hints and my ears were listening to every single word, in order to catch any reference to a film, game, music or even an anime ... However, this is one of the reasons some people will hate this movie.
I think I have never watched a film with so many Easter Eggs. I mean, the whole premise and concept of the movie are based on that, so I was prepared to be overwhelmed with pop culture references from every side. A lot of critics will think that they don't make sense or that the film has no structure whatsoever. The general audience will probably be "ok", even though they will never appreciate the hundreds of references that they don't understand.
Truthfully, I love it. The nerd in me will never get tired of catching Easter Eggs and I felt extremely entertained during the whole runtime. There are characters from other movies, vehicles and weapons from other games and even some nods to specific animes. The score is incredible and very nostalgic which tremendously elevated every action scene. I agree that the story might be filled with too many references, but honestly, I don't care. Let them come!
In another film, it would probably bother me but when the whole story is based on the concept of "egg hunting", there isn't a single Easter Egg that takes me out of the movie or that doesn't make sense. The virtual world Spielberg created is visually stunning and it feels realistic, awkward as that might sound. The OASIS is something that I can actually imagine existing in real life, 30 years from now. The world-building skills of Spielberg are intact and there is no one better than him to adapt Cline's book.
The action is music to my ears. No one handles a chasing scene better than this director. Animated or not, he is flawless. An amazing race scene at the beginning compensates the lack of interest in the first expositional 15 minutes, where voice narration takes over. The explanation of how the OASIS works is not really necessary since everything is pretty easy to understand by showing it to the viewers.
Until the end, the fast pacing never opens space for a dull moment. The 2h20 minutes run smoothly and the third act has a climax battle worthy of jaw-dropping moments. Inside the virtual world, there are very few flaws to point out. The Easter Eggs which the players have to find are not that hard to decipher, but it is still captivating to watch them trying to figure them out.
My main issue with the movie is when it comes back to the real world. Besides Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), no other character has any development whatsoever. Even assuming their avatars are an extension of their personalities, the supporting characters lack some growth. In the real world, the danger and the sense of urgency never feel authentic and some plot points can't escape the genre's cliches.
The story also tries to force out a romance that never has a ground to start off from. I believe the way love grows between these characters outside the OASIS, but the way it starts is as far as realistic as possible. On the other hand, the cast is awesome. Sheridan and Cooke have unbelievable chemistry and they carry most of the film on their shoulders. Ben Mendelsohn portrays a cliche and over-the-top "villain" (Sorrento), while T.J. Miller (I-R0k) is super funny as his sort of sidekick.
Tonally, Spielberg should have done better when the action is going on in the real world. I wanted to be in the OASIS all the time, so the movie kind of drops its entertainment levels a tiny bit when we come back "outside". Still, I haven't felt this entertained by a sci-fi film in years! Every shot has some sort of reference and I just love those kinds of stuff, no matter how many there are. I understand if it is overwhelming for some people, but for the nerd that I am, I couldn't love it more.
All in all, Ready Player One is a movie created for nerds, whether you want to admit it or not. Yes, the story has a lot of cliches. Yes, some characters lack development and the real world stakes don't feel anywhere near realistic. Yes, there is a stupid romance. But damn, I was entertained! Spielberg's world-building skills are outstanding and the OASIS is a virtual place where pop culture references "pop out" on every shot. Overwhelming? Definitely, but I love it! Sheridan and Cooke carry the film and their characters are formidable. The action scenes are jaw-dropping, the visuals are gorgeous and the score is incredibly nostalgic. I can't wait to see it again and catch some more Easter Eggs! Go watch it and happy "gunting"!