The amazing thing about nostalgia is that, at one point or another, all of us feel it. Whether it’s watching a favorite childhood movie (like Back to the Future) or plugging in a long-forgotten video game (like GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64), everybody loves reminiscing. And never has this love for nostalgia and pop cultural ever been taken to such a level as Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster film, Ready Player One.
In the dystopian future of 2045, life has become so bleak that everyone plugs in and tunes out into a virtual reality video game known as the OASIS. In OASIS, anyone can assume the avatars of any creature, being, or pop culture related character, living the life they wish they could in reality. After the creator of this VR technology dies, a rat race ensues for a hidden Easter egg he placed inside the game. The first one who finds it receives not only untold riches, but the deed to the OASIS itself.
Enter our main character Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young orphan who’s become very good at the game, who looks to find the Easter egg first. With the help of his friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), they hope to save OASIS (and possibly the world) from a tyrannical company called IOI. All of our heroes learning true friendship, acceptance, and bravery in the process.
Ready Player One is chock-full of easily marketable nostalgic properties of some of the most iconic games and movies. The Iron Giant, Overwatch, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Street Fighter, the works. If you can name it (and it existed between 1980 and 2000), it was probably included in the movie.
The environment the characters inhabit (a pivotal piece to the film) is bleak and hopeless, especially once it’s contrasted with the slick, awe-inspiring creativity of the OASIS. The imagery is often colorful and attractive to the eye, and the many situations our protagonists come across test the imaginative boundaries of this world.
One scene that really caught my eye was the ten-minute sequence dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining, in which our main characters must travel through iconic scenes of the film in search of a hidden key. We see great homages to a great horror movie done in ways that could be described as funny, scary, and intense.
It’s well known that Spielberg was a friend of Kubrick and envied his unique directing style. The same could also be said for Kubrick, who wished he could make a mass-appealing family adventure flick like Spielberg but died before he could make that a reality. Well in Ready Player One Spielberg seamlessly weaves The Shining into his family-friendly action flick. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful director.
It’s this kind of care and affection that Spielberg has for his audience and fellow filmmakers that makes Ready Player One work on such a phenomenal level. Running the plot and technicalities of this film through my head, I came to the conclusion that this shouldn’t work. Such a mashup of pop culture should be, quite frankly, stupid; pandering to a small demographic of people who obsess over this sort of thing. Yet Spielberg pulled it off, effectively making the film both fast-paced and exciting for all audiences.
The film does come across its share of minor hiccups along the way. For example, a plethora of exposition is dumped on the audience throughout the first thirty minutes; so much so that some information is actually repeated twice. A lot of this backstory knowledge didn’t need explaining and could’ve easily been shown to the audience rather than told.
Another criticism is actually the main lead of Wade Watts, again played by Tye Sheridan. Sheridan fairs much better as a voice actor rather than live-action, as his expressions aren’t particularly strong or convincing.
This doesn’t damper the overall spirit of the film, which gets its messages across in a firm but gentle way. Escapism can be great and help us to connect and foster relationships with distant people. But as the creator of The OASIS nicely puts it, eventually we all need to face reality, as it’s the only place to get a decent meal.
There’s even potential commentary on the politics behind gaming, microtransactions, and advertising. Sometimes it’s clever and thought provoking, other times it’s so heavy-handed that I kind of relished it.
Ready Player One transcends fanboyism and taps into a wide audience of eagerly nostalgic individuals. At points it goes too far with the pop culture references, and sometimes it’s subtler (like a beloved television character who passes by in the background). I believe Ready Player One meets in the middle and fulfills the desires and expectations of a variety of moviegoers.
For the uptight contrarians who feel that this is mindless and of poor quality, perhaps you should wait outside the theaters playing Ready Player One. There, you can greet the multitudes of well-satisfied fans (young and old) to state your antagonistic case.
For what it’s worth, I had a marvelous time watching Ready Player One and truly believe that there’s something for everybody in it. It’s fast-paced, touching, and all-around fascinating, and I hope others can take as much pleasure from it as I have.
The Verdict: A-