Good afternoon, intrepid friends!
Have you ever watched a film that captured your nostalgia to such a degree you thought it was a movie about your (exclusive) childhood? Well, if you love pop culture from the 80’s, 90’s and even some 70’s I present you Ready Player One.
Ready Player One is a 2018 science fiction film produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. It fared well at the box office. In this short review I tell you why as well as my own points of approval for this film. I hope you enjoy!
The film starts off by introducing us to the world of the future of 2045 in the desolate parts of Columbus, Ohio. The narrator, and protagonist, is orphaned teenager Wade Watts who lives with his aunt in “The Stacks”, a rundown trailer park on the outskirts of town.
Wade explains to us that the future has brought along many famines and material shortages despite online gaming advancing. This creates impoverished communities who use up their finances to escape to a global virtual reality called “The Oasis.” Wade himself escapes daily to The Oasis through his avatar, a pale anime like character called Parzival. In The Oasis he meets up and plays with his friends “H”, Sho, and Daito. Wade is determined to win the global contest in The Oasis made by its now defunct creator, James Halliday. The challenge is important because the winner who claims all three keys will own the majority shares of The Oasis.
Wade embarks on the first challenge, a death race, that is unwinnable. This is an exciting action sequence that features New York City, the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and King Kong himself. During the race we see Wade is short on funds, gathering coins from defeated players. As he races for his life he meets an online gamer that catches his eye. This gamer is “Art3mis”, a legendary player represented by an attractive anime female character with attitude. Parzival saves her character from being killed by Kong’s grip and offers “H” to fix her damaged motorcycle.
Parzival asks Art3mis many questions and does his best to impress her. “H” warns him that this crush is premature and that Art3mis may not be who he thinks she is. “She could be a dude, dude!” shouts “H” to his friend.
Parzival, nonetheless, explores the Oasis, visiting the personal records of James Halliday’s life moments. A snarky AI called the Curator takes him to said key moments. Parzival witnesses an argument between James Halliday and his business partner, Ogden Morrow. In this argument Halliday says “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just go backwards? As fast as we can?”
Wade emerges from The Oasis where he is beaten and berated by his aunt’s new lover whose gloves were borrowed by Wade. The man bet their life-savings on the race. Wade criticizes him while his aunt warns them both. This allows us to see that Wade isn’t very content with his reality outside the Oasis.
Once back in, Parzival uses his knowledge to win the race by speeding backwards. Sure enough, this ploy works and Art3mis follows suit, claiming second place. “H” claims third place with Sho and Daito claiming fourth and fifth.
This sudden first victory alarms the corporation “IOI” who intend on winning the contest themselves to keep control of the Oasis in corporate hands (not gamers). At the head of this corporate sabotage is the CEO Nolan Sorrento, a smug, self-important, comically arrogant suit with a vendetta for gamer culture.
By this point Art3mis and Parzival work closely together to find the following keys and keep IOI from winning them. “The Curator”, an AI within the Oasis bets against Parzival but loses; he gives Parzival a single shiny coin. This is about a girl Halliday asked out but didn’t pursue. Art3mis supposes that a virtual dance club is where Halliday’s next clue, “the leap not taken” is. Parzival reveals he is swept up by Art3mis and wants to meet her in the real world. Art3mis laughs at this until Parival tells her he loves her and his real name is Wade. Shocked and alarmed, Art3mis rebuffs him, scolding him for revealing his real name. She warns him that was unsafe and reckless. Before their conversation can heat up anymore goons from IOI enter the club and begin shooting. Our heroes hold their own until Parzival releases a device that freezes his enemies in place. They escape and Art3mis kicks him in the chest and tells him this contest has high stakes for her, and that she cannot be distracted by him.
Nonetheless, Parzival’s moves were tracked and Sorrento’s virtual spy tracks Wade down to The Stacks in Columbus, Ohio. Sorrento sends him a personal message and tries to persuade him into making a deal where Sorrento gains control of the Oasis. Despite this his attempts to persuade Wade fall on deaf ears. Wade sees through his chicanery and tells him he doesn’t really love pop culture. Sorrento, in true villain fashion, threatens Wade and sends a death squad to blow up Wade’s home. Terrified, Wade rushes out to warn his aunt. This fails and his entire home, along with several others, blow up and kill everyone inside. Wade escapes the carnage only to be kidnapped by a bald figure.
Wade awakes in a secret place where he hears the familiar voice of a young woman. It is Art3mis. She reveals her real name is Samantha and she has a large birthmark covering a large part of her face. Samantha is embarrassed and shy but Wade reassures her that she is indeed beautiful. Samantha reveals to him that she is part of an underground resistance that seeks to defeat IOI in the competition. The music flourishes in an optimistic swell, giving the character (and the audience) hope in this critical juncture of the film. This move does help establish the tone of this film as hopeful and bright but this move is questionable at best.
Our heroes plug back into the Oasis and embark on the second clue. Art3mis and Parzival piece together that the clue lies in “The Shining” sequence of the Oasis. The Five enter the sequence and hilarity ensues. Thankfully, Art3mis finds a hidden sequence within the film that contains a love interest Halliday never pursued. The heroine asks her to dance, which unlocks the second key and gate.
This development upsets IOI, which causes Sorrento to double down his forces on unlocking the final key. His death squad rush to find the rebels and manage to capture Samantha who stays behind to give Wade a chance to escape. Immediately, Parzival is joined by a hurried young woman wearing a backwards hat. She reveals herself to be Helen ,who is “H”, Wade’s virtual best friend. Helen leads him to a postal van where he is joined by a young Asian boy and a teenage Asian kid with a sense of urgency about him. They reveal themselves to be “Sho” and “Daito.” Just like in the game Sho is adventurous and outspoken (albeit an eleven-year-old) while Daito is stern and resolute.
The gang makes it to a safe place where Wade hatches a plan to free Samantha from IOI. Amid many tricks and much hilarity our heroes thwart the bumbling fool, Sorrento, and manage to free Samantha from her pod. Samantha and the crew rally an army with Parzival leading the charge. The team makes it to the final challenge where IOI try, hamfistedly, to beat the arcade games challenge. Many pop culture references ensue, including The Iron Giant, Mechagodzilla, Chucky, and Gundam to name a few. In the end Sorrento unleashes a super-weapon to kill every player logged into the Oasis. This succeeds in knocking out Parzival, I-ROC, all of IOI, every gamer and Sorrento himself. All seems lost: every scoreboard is deleted.
But then Parzival comes back online as it is revealed the shiny coin the Curator gave him was an extra life. The token disappears as it has been used. This gives Parzival the chance to play the challenge of “Adventure”, a game which contained the first ever Easter Egg. He happily explains to everyone watching (the Oasis is being recorded) that the designer of the game wanted to show off his appreciation for the game in a way that only true lovers of the game would understand. He enters a secret room and obtains the final key. This reveals Halliday’s avatar who congratulates him and gives him the final key.
Outside the game the crooks at IOI hunt down our gang and attempt to destroy the postal van. The constant thumping and slamming of the van shakes Parzival around in comical fashion preventing him from turning the key in the lock. Sorrento himself decides to follow them and takes a gun with him.
Parzival meets Halliday’s AI in the game. He turns down Halliday’s offer to be the owner of the Oasis. Wade has a character moment where he realizes that it wasn’t Halliday’s refusal to pursue a girl that alienated him. It was, instead, Halliday’s alienation of his friend Ogden Morrow that alienated him from people. The avatar sensing the wisdom in Wade tells him that he found the truth. The avatar tells him that Halliday escaped the real world to the virtual world of games because he wasn’t able to connect with anyone in the real world. His regret is that he didn’t see that reality is better than any fantasy, reality is reality.
Wade emerges from the virtual reality and Sorrento although intent on killing him, is awestruck to see him completing the challenge of the game. Sorrento is frozen with awe and admiration for the accomplishment. The police appear behind him and arrest him along with his assistant, Finale.
Wade realizing Halliday’s lesson decides to kiss Samantha. She warmly agrees and the two enjoy the moment before Ogden Morrow makes an appearance. Morrow welcomes Wade as the new owner of the Oasis. Wade replies that Halliday should have never ousted Morrow from the company. He tells Morrow that he won’t make the same mistake and decides to share ownership of the Oasis with his four friends: “H”, Art3mis, “Daito” and “Sho”: “The High Five.” This pleases Morrow who shakes hands with all of them, welcoming them to the business.
We get a voice over from Wade explaining that “The High Five” run the Oasis and they make it a good place for everyone in it, Morrow is a consultant receiving a comical twenty-five cents salary (a nod to the in-game token) and that the Oasis is shut down on Tuesdays so that everyone can take time away from the virtual world to be involved in the real one with people.
This film is a well-written story with many lessons and Easter eggs for the fans. On the one hand, the film shows the importance of friendship, staying true to one’s values (when Wade turns down Sorrento and Halliday’s offers) and the importance of valuing reality over fantasy (escapism isn’t the answer to life). On the other hand, the film gives us cool action sequences and memorable moments, which pay homage to decades of pop culture. These two things alone make this film a quality pick.
On the other side, this film makes some questionable choices: it kills Wade’s parental figure and segues to hopeful and happy scenes. This choice makes the loss of his aunt not mean much in the larger picture. Also, the appearances of H, Daito and Sho, though necessary to the plot, seems very convenient and thus (a bit) cheap. I think I can forgive Spielberg’s choice here seeing that this is his story of optimism and courage. If it is rushed or convenient it is so by design to service the plot. This seems convenient to a fault but still serves the purpose of setting the tone for this film.
I give “Ready Player One” a hearty 89% rating. This film has a few flaws but is very fun, memorable and tells a cohesive story with feel-good vibes. This is an action-packed, story-driven film that is wholesome for all ages.
Thanks for reading.