In a dystopian future, most people try to escape their pitiful real lives by entering a cyberworld called The OASIS. When the OASIS’ creator dies, he sets in motion an Easter egg hunt with the winner gaining his fortune and complete control of the OASIS.
Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and four fellow gunters (Easter egg hunters) team up to beat corporate monolith Innovative Online Industries (I.O.I.), fronted by the slick Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) – who has hundreds of experts behind the scenes, feeding him information and taking hits in the games – to the prize.
If you’re looking for a bit of the ole razzle-dazzle, a bit of ‘80s nostalgia and an entertainment that pulls from video games, comics, movies and a best-selling novel, then you’re going to be in the right theater.
Ernest Cline’s novel is filled with references to literally hundreds of bits of ‘80s entertainment – including several of director Steven Spielberg’s films (making it the perfect movie for Spielberg to direct – which he does with much of the panache he exhibited in that decade).
There’s a line in the voiceover setup by Wade (who uses the avatar Parzival) that encapsulates Ready Player One and the OASIS’ unique sensibility, ‘You can climb Mount Everest… with Batman!’
Once you wend your way through all the various plot and character arcs, Ready Player One is a ‘kids save the world’ movie – but all the frills really give it a dexterity and density that makes it feel as real as anything we’ve seen in years.
The good guys – who come to be known as the High Five: Wade/Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, Sho and Daito – start out thinking to win the game as individuals but come to realize that it’s a lot easier (though still close to impossible) to get things done as a team.
As this happens, their original reasons for winning change into something better.
The genius behind the OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), is played as a kind of cross between Willy Wonka and Steve Jobs (an impression bolstered by a certain, specific song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory) – and the prize can only be found by knowing and understanding Halliday’s life (his successes and failures; his dreams and desires; his regrets).
The movie is not precisely Cline’s novel – there are huge changes in structure and plot – and a new character, Sorrento’s right-hand woman, F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen). The changes were clearly approved of by cline – he co-wrote the screenplay with genre veteran Zack Penn.
So, we get to see most of the important sequences from the book, if in different arrangements (Parzival and Art3mis’ relationship moves more quickly; there’s none of Wade’s OASIS schooling and much more) Certain characters still die; others who died in the book don’t in the movie – and because of the addition of a key secondary villain, there are some great moments that weren’t even in the book..
The result is a script that works as well for a movie as the novel did as a book.
There’s not much point to trying to sketch out the plot beyond the basic ‘kids save the world’ but it should be noted that the cast is extremely good (I won’t name cast members other than the ones already named because, in some cases, that would constitute spoilers).
What I can say is that Ready Player One is definitely a great popcorn movie (I’m sure some critics will slam it for reasons that they’re reading into it, and that’s fair – once a movie is released, it almost doesn’t matter what the filmmaker’s intent was).
Ready Player One is a movie that practically requires popcorn to be eaten – and occasionally dropped on the floor as one jaw-dropping sequence or another appears.
Final Grade: A