Nerd culture has been becoming more and more mainstream as the years go on. As a result of the rise of comic book movies and many other “geeky” properties, the stereotypical 90’s nerd is becoming more and more like the cool kid of the class. This came to a head in 2011 with the publication of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a book with more pop culture references per page than any book I have ever read. I’ve been a fan of the book since about 2013 and I’ve been excited for the movie version for a while. Does the film live up to the heights of the source material? For the most part, yeah.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a teenager living in the poor area of Columbus, Ohio in a post apocalyptic 2045. Due to most cities becoming slum-like, the population of the world escapes into the OASIS, a virtual reality program created and designed by James Halliday (Mark Rylance). After Halliday’s death years prior, a hunt for a series of keys to unlock an easter egg begins. Whoever finds the easter egg would be granted complete control over the entirety of the OASIS. With Nolan Sorrento’s (Ben Mendelsohn) IOI Corporation determined to financially benefit from the contest, Wade and his other gunter’s must solve all the hints first and gain the ultimate prize before Sorrento does.
The story of the film, outside of the more futuristic elements, is very simple and well crafted. Largely influenced by the story of Willy Wonka, the premise is simple and easy to follow. The complications come in establishing the world, which, if done smartly, would have introduced everything you need to know through visuals. Unfortunately, director Steven Spielberg and Cline, who also co-wrote the film, decided to spend the opening moments establishing the world and our lead through voice over. This worked, but, at a certain point, it became too much and almost like they couldn’t think of a creative way to show the audience the world of the book.
The movie recovers from a slow act one with great action and character development later on that may have been taken straight from the book. The book has slower development of the story because that can be done in the literary medium. With the film, it’s sped up to have the pace of a great action adventure film. The film slows down towards the end a bit, but it recovers from a slow beginning very well. While many of the plot beats come off as predictable, it doesn’t take away from the fun of the film and how much Spielberg is enjoying directing a story largely influenced by his early film work.
The characters don’t change much in the adaptation to the screen, but some come off stronger than others. Olivia Cooke’s Art3mis starts out very strong, with her character fighting for what is right pulled of excellently. She sees this hunt for the key as a way to save people from an evil government. She comes off the best out of everyone, and, while the manic pixie dream girl trope is present, it doesn’t make me mad about her role in the film. Another strong performance is Rylance’s Halliday. He’s mysterious who loves what he does and how the OASIS makes people happy. He shows off great range in a small part and his final moments on screen is when the film shines the brightest.
Some of the weaker moments can be seen in the main lead. Watts is your stereotypical “chosen one” character in every way. While he is shown to be very smart and have great ingenuity, his blandness knows no bounds. This isn’t too much of a detriment to the overall story, I just wish there was more to the character. Another weak point is Sorrento, whose motivation is flimsy and it’s unclear why he wants to take over the OASIS. There isn’t much too him outside of being an evil corporate jerk and, while the movie tries to develop him more with a backstory, it doesn’t add much to his character.
While the character work is mixed at best, what saves the film are the visual effects. The world of the OASIS is gorgeous to look at, with a lot of detail put into it. When the story spends time highlighting the world of the OASIS you can’t help but be immersed. While it’s clearly computer generated, it feels real in a way that the people of 2045 feel about it. It’s a fantasy escape where you can be anything you want to be. The background references are vast too, and listing them all here would fill up this entire article.
The animation on the character’s OASIS avatars could have breached the uncanny valley, but it strikes a perfect balance and looks really nice. The character designs fit each respective character, with some more fantastical and others more human like. The action set in the OASIS is very good as well, with the cinematography and editing coming together to create something fast paced but still easy to look at.
Ready Player One may have some flaws in characters and pacing but it doesn’t take away from the fun factor. The story is solid, the effects work is great, and some of the characters are even improved from the source material. It’s a great movie to turn off your brain with and have some 1980’s action adventure fun for a night.