Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One was a 385-page love letter to 1980/90s pop culture. Director Steven Spielberg lovingly visualises that grand adventure in a great film that everyone will enjoy. You’ll just enjoy it more if you love video games, movies and music from that era.
Set in 2045, humanity has finally pushed the limits of Earth’s resources too far. Most people barely scrape a living, and seek to escape reality by immersing themselves in the Oasis, a virtual world where any dream can be (artificially) fulfilled.
When the eccentric creator of the Oasis launches an open competition, offering as a prize control of the entire system, teenage gaming ace Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his team of fellow adventurers must complete the trail of quests before Oasis is seized for nefarious purposes by an evil corporation.
The best thing about Ready Player One is that it’s fun to watch. Catch this on the big screen, because you and your friends will have a great time spotting all the obvious pop culture references sprinkled liberally and literally everywhere. Street Fighter’s Ryu, the time-travelling DeLorean from Back to the Future, even the Iron Giant are integrated briefly yet coherently into the plot. [Minor spoiler alert: a colossal showdown between two Japanese cultural icons will just make your day. If you’re a geek. Like the writer.]
Though most of the film takes place in the virtual world, the quality of acting can be gauged in the real-world sequences. Sheridan is only competent as protagonist Wade Watts, who at starts playing Oasis just as a way to relax, but slowly realises it’s not that soothing, as anything with economic value will be fought over (sometimes violently) by really greedy people.
Olivia Cooke does a better job as Wade’s feisty teammate Art3mis, and their real-life budding teen romance is propped up by her buoyant acting. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, with special kudos to T. J. Miller as corporate mercenary i-R0k, who is a pretty chill, laid-back dude for a bad guy.
Pacing, the soundtrack, and audio effects are all excellent. Spielberg structures the film like a typical video game with quick expository beats interspersed with plenty of action. Even if you’re not a fan of the time period, Ready Player One is a thrilling roller coaster of a movie that deserves a ride. Maybe multiple rides.