Come for the pop culture references, stay for the spectacle.
Synopsis: An unlikely young hero named Wade Watts – under his avatar name, Parzival – finally conquers the first contest, instantly becoming a celebrity…and a target. Ruthless corporate mogul Nolan Sorrento proves he will stop at nothing to beat Wade and take over the OASIS, and suddenly the virtual stakes are all-too-real. Ultimately realizing he cannot win alone, Wade joins forces with his friends—now the High Five. Together, they are hurled into a reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS. (Warner Bros.)
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Mark Rylance
Writers: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 140mins
For showtimes and more, check out Ready Player One on movietimes.com.
One of the best parts about the film is that it has something for everybody. It’s a prototypical blockbuster chock-full of pop culture references from the 80s and 90s (no spoilers) and a soundtrack that familiar viewers will get a kick out of that will surely be enough for a lot people, however, it’s much more than that. Without having read the book of the same name by Ernest Cline in which the film is based, it’s difficult to speak to how faithful it is to its source material but having Cline involved with the script is a good sign.
The story was pretty much revealed in the film’s trailers. After the death of the creator of an immersive virtual video game known as the Oasis, the eccentric James Halliday (Rylance), issued a challenge to all Oasis players to find a secret Easter egg within the game which would also grant the winner control of the Oasis and immense wealth. The Oasis served as an escape for the rest of the world as it allows people to be whatever they want and do whatever they want.
Wade Watts (Sheridan) was an orphaned teen living in a slum neighborhood of a dystopian Cincinnati, Ohio called The Stacks. He and his friends, using their avatars, worked together to solve Halliday’s many clues to find the egg and in the process, learn the history behind Halliday and the creation of the Oasis. The camaraderie between Watts/Parzival and his friends Samantha/Art3mis (Cooke), Helen/Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki), also known as the High Five, and the history lesson were the best parts of the film.
The High Five had great chemistry despite the fact that Sho and Daito didn’t matter all that much. Halliday was a great character though we didn’t get nearly enough of him. Of course the High Five weren’t the only ones after the egg as an evil corporation and their leader Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) had different intentions for the Oasis. Sorrento was just another soulless, full of himself corporate businessman. With Sorrento, the situation became more serious as it was no longer just a game and their actions had real-life consequences.
While the real world components were impressive in their own right, the Oasis itself was a visual spectacle that should be seen on the big screen. Most of the story took place there and included some exciting action sequences and a multitude of pop culture references (no spoilers). What could have easily been a gimmick was used in an inventive way, taking advantage of the open-ended nature of the Oasis. There were so many references here that additional viewings may be needed to pick up all of them. The story itself was still entertaining but basic that instead of focusing on any depth, was more interested in spectacle.
The acting was good all around with Sheridan and Rylance being the standouts. Sheridan as Watts carries the film and was compelling to watch in virtual form and in real life. Cooke was strong as the badass Art3mis and Watts’ love interest Samantha. The only other member of the High Five to get any focus was Waithe’s scene-stealing Helen/Aech. Mendelsohn was terrific as Sorrento, balancing charming and menacing. Last but certainly not least, Rylance is excellent in everything and this was still the case here. He was excellent at the wonderfully eccentric and deadpan Halliday, making an impression in his limited screen time.
Overall, this was an excellent adventure film that checks all the blockbuster boxes thanks to excellent visuals, a fun and epic story full of pop culture references that are sure to bring up nostalgia, and a smart and surprisingly funny script. While many will be entertained by the spectacle of it and the references, the film is not as deep as it could have been which may bother other viewers.
*Ready Player One opens in theatres starting March 29th*