- A different sort of videogame movie – about videogames and not based on a specific one
- Fun MacGuffins
- Tons of videogame and film pop culture references, making it so much fun to watch
- Brilliantly original and immersive world
- Beautiful and stunning CGI
- Electric and adrenaline-fuelled action – improved with references
- Characters unlikely to become iconic, but still very likeable
There’s no way around it – Ready Player One is definitely a videogame movie; a dedicated one at that… but not in the way you might think. While most ‘videogame movies’ are merely adaptations of existing videogames (eg. Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, Doom) and mostly totally rubbish (the recent Tomb Raider aside). However, there’s a smaller, less appreciated genre of videogame movies that are wildly different, in that they are instead about videogames, not based on any ones in particular, allowing for a lot more freedom; incredibly these films are often well-received and liked (something that can’t be said for the Mario film). There aren’t many but the few that are around have seen packed audiences and positive reviews from critics – there’s Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Disney’s brilliant Wreck-It Ralph and even Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which certainly got more favourable reviews than any Resident Evil film. Now there’s a new one, and Ready Player One might be the best yet. Steven Spielberg returns to fine form with an immediate classic – a more traditional story that’s still utterly modern, a fun rollercoaster ride from start to finish and an absolute joyful masterpiece with references that will make repeat viewings a delight.
Set in the near future of 2045, the world has become a difficult place, with people’s only solace being the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality – an expansive universe where you can do whatever you want, go whereever you want and be whoever you want, the only limit being imagination. This is the reality that Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) loves to escape to each and every day, playing as his avatar Parzival and meeting up with friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki), also known as the High Five. However, when the brilliant but eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he decides to leave control of the OASIS and his vast fortune to whoever completes three challenges and finds three keys. It’s this ‘Easter Egg’ that everyone is obsessed with, Gunters (a portmanteau of ‘Egg Hunter’) dedicating all their time to find a way to complete the challenges. When Wade finally discovers the secret to winning the first game and securing the first key, the race is on against villainous IOI, led by the stern Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who are hellbent on finding all three keys first so that they can control the universe of the OASIS.
The story isn’t too dissimilar to other Spielberg adventure flick Indiana Jones, a shameless MacGuffin-led adventure, with clues and hidden meanings to the next piece of the puzzle with fights peppered throughout. As I’ve said before, this is my personal favourite genre and it fits very well within this film. All the trials/ games to find the keys are distinct and unique, each as exciting and action-packed as the other, crammed with film and videogame references.
In fact it’s these references to film and videogame pop culture over the past 40 years or so peppered throughout the film left, right and centre that make up its personality and makes it so much fun to watch. There are almost an endless number of references, though you can’t fail to wish maybe there were a few more nods to other popular games – Pokemon, Zelda, even Skyrim. Regardless of how legally challenging it would be to allow these in the film, there are so many references in general that you don’t really need any more, otherwise it would veer close to being too saturated and gimmicky. Instead the film is brimming with enjoyable references (Back to the Future, Overwatch, Terminator, Iron Giant, Mario, Goldeneye, Halo to name but a few off the top of my head), enough to be fun, funny and to seem real – because let’s face it, if the OASIS existed we would cram it full of references to everything under the sun. It’s all blended beautifully and seamlessly with the orignal world Spielberg has created with Ernest Cline, author of the novel.
More than just being a load of fun, the references enrich the otherwise incredible and electric action scenes, making them varied, fun and terrifically unique. Take the final battle: in no other film could you have the protagonist firing laser blasters from a Back to the Future-styled Delorean, throwing a bloodthirsty Chucky doll into a battlefield, one side being an army led by those Halo guys and Tracer from Overwatch while Iron Giant is battling it out with mecha-Godzilla. That’s just a drop in the ocean for a film like this, with such glorious action filmed only in the way a master filmmaker like Spielberg can. Even the backdrop to the action is incredible, with so much detail and still being well animated. In fact, the work that has gone into the CGI has to be applauded as it’s omnipresent and is used very well, completely immersing us into an incredible world.
On the other hand, though, there are no characters as iconic as, say, Indiana Jones. Whilst the designs of each avatar are brilliant, well-animated and varied, they’re no match for a man with a hat and trusty whip. On top of this, there seems to be so much emphasis on the action and life in the OASIS that there’s a human element lacking, giving the film overall a little less heart than it should have. Still, these aren’t dull characters; there’s an eclectic group of great characters that are a blast to spend the runtime with. Ben Mendelsohn plays the traditional Spielberg-esque antagonist Nolan Sorrento, in a great performance oozing with villainy and malevolence. At first Mark Rylance seems rather bored with his part as OASIS creator Halliday, but when we get to know the character we can see that it was an understated, well-played part, perfectly showing us a man with limitless imagination who struggled to connect with the real world. The central duo, Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, are strong and consistently likable, able to engage the audience both as themselves and as their avatars, with Lena Waithe being an easily amiable side-kick. Simon Pegg was underused though and it’s a shame that not enough characterisation and screentime was given to the rest of the High-Five, namely Sho and Daito who remain rather unimportant characters that seem to be there just to bulk up the group.
Steven Spielberg gives us an electric, exicting and visually stunning glimpse into the near future, breathing fresh life into videogame movies and Macguffin movies. This is Spielberg going back to doing the type of films we love him for – old-school Spielberg doing a modern film, with non-stop action, fun and an exhaustive list of pop culture references that means we can watch it several times and always see something new. Ready Player One is a fantastic blockbuster that’s sure to blow you away. Ready Player One? More like Ready Player FIVE (stars)!