Title: Ready Player One
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Brief Plot Synopsis: Are you a bad enough dude to [find the Golden Egg]?
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 Starmen (Starmans?) out of 5.
Tagline: "A better reality awaits."
Better Tagline: "Shall we play a game?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the year 2044, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the millions of people who have retreated to the OASIS, an immersive, free virtual game affording them respite from the unpleasantness of reality. He spends the bulk of his time in this world as "Parzival," hunting for clues to obtaining three keys left by its creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance), that will lead whoever obtains them to a golden egg giving them total control of the OASIS. He's joined in this quest by best friend "Aech" (Lena Waithe) and "Art3mis" (Olivia Cooke), each of whom want to save the OASIS from Innovative Online Industries (IOI), whose CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has plans to privatize the whole shebang.
"Critical" Analysis: Ready Player One really wants to be a crowd-pleaser, but directorial choices and the narratve limitations of the source material hamper that effort somewhat.
Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, the storyline is promising enough in its innocuousness: young man embarks on a journey to win fortune (and maybe love) against the seemingly unsurmountable forces arrayed against him. While that could describe anything from Star Wars to SpongeBob SquarePants, it's also the sort of thing director Steven Spielberg, one of cinema's all-time great emotional manipulators, ought to be able to do in his sleep.
Instead, RPO bulks up its rudimentary plot with enough geek pop culture references to, uh, gag a Sarlacc. It's Willy Wonka if the chocolate factory was a VR MMORPG and Slugworth headed up an evil multinational corporation bent on commodifying all forms of online interaction. Come to think of it, IOI isn't *that* much more nefarious than any other gaming company.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to a few problems. For starters, the virtual scenes are so dense and vividly imagined they make the quote-unquote real world struggle of Wade and company against Sorrento pretty dull. And while that would appear to make the point that reality is miserable (or as miserable as a Spielbergian dystopia can get), Halliday himself is fairly adamant in his belief that our real-life connections are the ones that *really* matter.
[Maybe he should have thought of that before conceiving a world where Overwatch's Tracer, Street Fighter's Chun-Li, and a squad of Master Chiefs from Halo (among about a zillion others) team up with the Iron Giant to fight MechaGodzilla.]
RPO functions adequately as a basic adventure yarn, but is mostly weaponized nostalgia. Wade's entire existence — to say nothing of the other "Gunters" (egg hunters), IOI researchers, and anyone in the OASIS who wants to have a hope in hell of advancing in the game — requires obsessive expertise in the 80s pop culture Halliday so loved. Spielberg and Zak Penn (who co-wrote the screenplay with Cline) do a respectable job reigning in the more regrettable book choices (there's no full-on roleplaying of War Games or complete run throughs of Pac-Man, thanks be to Neil Peart), making the copious cameos and shout-outs more "blink and you miss them" than necessary viewing.
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That said, thoughts and prayers to the IO9 writer who has to document every reference in this.
But they're not always successful. If the Pacific Rim movies are just pitting your old Mattel Godzilla toys against mechs, then Ready Player One is the big screen embodiment of every pubescent nerd argument you had about who'd win in a fight: Voltron or Optimus Prime? The USS Enterprise or a Star Destroyer? Godzooky or Bat-Mite? These examples may or may not be in the movie.
And if you're the type of person who digs that, or enjoys the idea of one storied director "reimagining" another famous director's movie (hint: it's Stanley Kubrick), then all the riffage adds an extra layer of focus. If not, at least try to be understanding when various sections of the theater erupt into spasms of nerd joy.
There are probably going to be at least a handful of moments that will bring smiles, if not outright squeals of delight, to even the casual gaming/sci-fi fans. But it turns out a movie that's 90 percent fan service ultimately isn't very satisfying.