This is one of the few instances where I've actually read the book the movie’s based on. 'Ready Player One' the movie and 'Ready Player One' the book take two different paths in an effort to tell the same story. Essentially, the movie cuts out a good bit of the book and takes some liberties with the source material to get through what might be a tedious experience if you're not now (and never have been) a gamer-type nerd. Also, at 2.5 hours the movie is plenty long. At first, I felt a touch of resentment at the deviations from the book but ultimately the changes made sense, so all was forgiven. Well, most was forgiven. One detail continues to bug me but I'm not going to get into that here. That is another rant for another day.
Moving on, 'Ready Player One' opens with an introduction to our protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). His dad gave him that name because he thought it sounded like a superhero's alter ego (e.g. Peter Parker & Bruce Banner) and he had high hopes for his son. Unfortunately, his dad is long gone. It's 2045 and Wade lives in The Stacks, a vertical trailer park in Columbus, Ohio. He lives there with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) and her abusive boyfriend. Wade's still kind of young, so it’s clear why he’s stuck with them for now. His life feels as grey and bleak as the opening scenes where we get a glimpse of the real world before we dive into the OASIS. It is immediately obvious why people spend so much of their time in a virtual reality. The real world is depressing and who wants to deal with that when you can run around all day being King Kong and stress-smash everything in sight?
OASIS is a virtual environment or digital world, kind of like social media, except the experience is fully immersive. You put on you goggles and dive in completely. You become your avatar and you walk around this alternate reality doing whatever you please, provided you have the gear and points necessary to do so. James Halliday (Mark Rylance) is the creator of OASIS and a modern-day legend. He’s dead but before he died, he left an Easter egg inside the OASIS. Halliday programed a game within the virtual reality experience that requires players to find three keys to unlock the ultimate Easter egg. Whoever gets to it first becomes the sole proprietor of OASIS. Since most people IRL use the OASIS as an escape from their bleak realities, that entails a huge transfer of power, not to mention money. Halliday was a trillionaire before he died and whoever wins the game, wins his fortune in addition to ownership of OASIS.
It’s no wonder the evil corporation Innovative Online Industries (IOI) has created an army of players who work round the clock to try to obtain the keys and win control of OASIS. Ultimately, ‘Ready Player One’ is a story of discovery. First we’re digging around discovering new things about the past, but eventually we’re cheering Wade on as he discovers why it’s so important to fight for what’s real.
‘Ready Player One’ is a pop culture nerd’s dream. If you watch the movie close enough, you’re bound to find several references to beloved memories from your past. The DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future’ makes an appearance in one of the earlier scenes. Later on, everyone becomes trapped inside ‘The Shining.’ I’m not sure why this rubbed so many critics the wrong way, but it did. ‘Ready Player One’ isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel though. It’s true, these are just nods to nostalgia, nothing more. But that leaves me wondering: What’s wrong with that? Nothing goddammit, nothing is wrong with a boat load of 80s pop culture references. It’s fun. It floods your old blood with a shot of adrenaline as you fly from the present to way back when. It’s a split second of escape.
Tye Sheridan’s performance as Wade Watts fell a bit flat. He’s a fine lead, but I didn’t get that spark of extraordinary I’d expect to see in an actor leading such a bombastic visual storytelling experience. Olivia Cooke as Art3mis was a balanced combination of smart ass, smart gal and strong lead. She conveys something of a born leader and brings depth to what feels like shallow character development. Lena Waithe is excellent as the funny sidekick but I would have liked to see more of her. The acting was good, the story abridged, but the visuals were outstanding. I’m not saying that to take a dig at anyone, but it’s pretty clear from the moment the movie starts that it’s going to be an overzealous feast for the eyes.
If you have the means, go see this one in IMAX. I don’t regret spending the extra cash and I’m super cheap. If you’ve ever been into video games hardcore, this whole thing will feel like one exhilarating, yet wholesome—it’s PG-13—thrill ride based on your favorite game. ‘Ready Player One’ is exactly the kind of indulgent escapism we’re told to watch out for in the movie, but it’s finite so there's no harm in it, right? Go on, have some fun and get lost in it. Just remember what Stephen Spielberg said about ‘Ready Player One,' “This is not a film that we’ve made, this is — I promise you — a movie.” Maybe it’s even a flick. Yeah, a flick. I like that better.