‘Ready Play One’ hits all the nostalgia feels

by Tim English on March 31, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist UP]

As a child of the 80’s and a film geek, Steven Spielberg holds a special place in my heart. I’ve seen every single one of his films from Duel to The Post — except for one, and that one may shock you — but I’ll be honest with you…I expected Ready Player One to be a fucking turd. While it may not be a full return to glory for Mr. Spielberg, there is enough nostalgic, nerdgasm-enducing, magical pop culture goodies jam-packed into this special effects extravaganza to forgive the uneven message and the one-dimensional, cliched characters.

Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is set in 2045 (primarily in Columbus, Ohio), a world that has developed into an overpopulated wasteland, where homes are literally stacked on top of each other. The one real escape everyone has is the OASIS, a virtual reality video game world where gamers can plug in, create their unique avatar and explore vast computer gaming worlds with characters like Batman and Freddy Krueger or whatever 80’s and 90’s (mostly 80’s) pop culture icons you could possibly imagine.

When the creator of the game, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, he leaves a mysterious final message telling of an Easter Egg planted within the game — 3 keys — and whomever should find these keys will win a shit ton of money and complete lifetime control of the OASIS. Obviously everyone wants in to what ultimately becomes a virtual reality battle royale for digital supremacy. Our key player is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men Apocalypse) or Parzival as he’s known in the OASIS, a Columbus rat who lives in the Stacks. His characters is much more interesting in the virtual world than he is in the real world.

He teams up with a rag tag group of geeky gamers, whom he’s never met in real life because this is a VR world and people have zero reason to meet up. It’s much easier to pretend you’re something you’re not in this false reality. Art3mis (Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) is the one real standout among his newly formed clan. Lena Waithe (Master of None) plays on of Wade’s closest allies, has some nice moments but they are few and far between.

Villainy is personified by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who seems to be playing the same one note corporate stiff baddie in every movie he’s in. This dude controls a corporation called IOI, that wants to find the golden egg and take over the OASIS so he can turn it into an advertising dead zone, or enslave humanity or something (that actually sounds more interesting). It’s this real world crap that bogs the movie down. Clocking in at around 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film spends entirely too much time on what the bad guys are up to, when the action of the game could have handled most of this wasted exposition.

There a lot of attempts to delve into how we’ve all become dependent on technology and we are becoming an increasingly less personal society, but these themes are mentioned more than they are explored.  It may be time we all just accepted the fact that 1980’s Steven Spielberg is gone. The same way we need to remember we aren’t the wild eyed youths we were back when Indiana Jones and Goonies and E.T.s were buying stock in our precious childhood memories. This movie isn’t all that great. In fact if you take out all the kick ass, geeky pop culture references and the movie is pretty flimsy. Granted, it’s a tough book to adapt and it helps the book’s author shares a screenwriting credit with Zak Penn.

But for real, even if he is past his popcorn movie prime, Spielberg is probably the only director in Hollywood who could make this movie work. What the movie lacks in character development, it makes up for in sheer entertainment. At times it feels and plays like a video game. If you’ve ever been stuck on a sofa watching your friends (or kids) play video games for hours at a time…it’s kinda like that except it’s more like be dropped into the VR world to experience the action firsthand.

But it is fun as fuck to watch. There is one level of the game that is so fucking awesome that I won’t spoil it here. Sure, it helps if you get the references. I can imagine people out of the loop might watch it and think ol’ Steven has finally lost his goddamn mind. But there is enough nostalgia, fun, and of course the typical Spielberg sappiness to make this a highly entertaining, mindless trip through memory lane. Especially if you’re a child of the 80’s and love nerdy shit.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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