Main cast: Tye Sheridan (Wade Watts/Parzival), Olivia Cooke (Samantha Cook/Art3mis), Ben Mendelsohn (Nolan Sorrento), Lena Waithe (Helen/Aech), TJ Miller (i-R0k), Simon Pegg (Ogden Morrow), Mark Rylance (James Halliday), Philip Zhao (Sho), Win Morisaki (Daito), and Hannah John-Kamen (F’Nale Zandor)
Director: Steven Spielberg
The gaming fan in me squeal in delight at nearly every ten minutes or so throughout Ready Player One, despite my disdain for Steven Spielberg’s overall pretentious twattery and Tye Sheridan’s annoying mug. This movie is full of homages and references to pop culture past and present, it makes me feel so happy. The story though… meh.
Set in 2045, the world is now an unhappy place, as most of the population live in slums composed of trailer park homes stacked on top of one another, and they escape into the virtual world of OASIS. Mind you, I’m not sure how tough life must be if these people can still neglect their real life responsibilities to play games all day, but let’s just play along or we’ll never be able to get past the premise itself. So, people prefer to play virtual games, and OASIS is one giant theme park in which you can either play Sims-style simulation or take part in races or even go all fantasy warrior gone wild and battle one another. The in-game currency can be used to buy upgrades to strengthen your avatar, or in-game persona. Just like in real life, you can also use real money to buy upgrades, but, unlike real life (fortunately), racking up debts to do this will see you dragged off to “loyalty centers” where you are forced basically to be indentured servants in OASIS.
So, we have our hero, 18-year old Wade Watts. He lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend, and that’s so sad, especially when Wade spends his time being Parzival in OASIS. Playing games all day – what a terrible fate. The fun begins when the co-creator and owner of OASIS, James Halliday, dies and upon his death, his will is telecast to all OASIS users: he has hidden three keys in the game, and whoever finds the three keys will own OASIS in real life. And owning the most widely used drug in the world will bring one great power, hence Nolan Sorrento from rival company IOI has amassed an army of gamers to locate these three keys in the game.
But ah, just like the biggest self-absorbed twats around, James made sure that one can only find those keys by memorizing every detail of his life and embracing his personal philosophy. Fortunately for Wade, he is a big James Halliday fanboy, so he soon finds the clue that leads him to the first key. This pits him against Nolan, who will go all out to make sure that James is stopped. Meanwhile, James has with him his Clan Diversity, which sees various people of color work very hard to embrace the stereotype of their races while propping the two white leads. Sam is the tough love interest who has a grudge against IOI, but she also has a birthmark and only Wade can see her true beauty underneath, squee. We also have Aech, the black sidekick who is content to do all the grunt work to prop Parzival up without taking any credit, and two Japanese kids that have, I think, barely five minutes of lines between the two of them. But they are ninjas and samurais that do martial arts stuff in real life, so yay, we are all very diverse and woke now. On the other side, we have one-dimensional cartoon villains that try very hard to rehash the theme of how corporate people are truly evil. Don’t let that message stop you, of course, from watching this movie and buying all the merchandises, because while corporations are evil, you giving them money is an awesome thing.
So yes, the movie itself is pretty crap. But oh my, there are so many distractions to keep me entertained. References to gaming development milestones, cameos from popular video games, and homages to everything from The Shining to The Terminator: Judgment Day as well as every other Japanese mecha and Pokémon monsters ever created all have the gaming fan in me all giddy with delight. Every scene is like a playful high five and I love it.
By the time the credits roll, I initially think Ready Player One will be a solid four-oogie movie. But once I come back down to earth and think a bit harder about what I have seen… meh. An annoying lead male character, token diversity that only reinforces racial stereotypes, a bewildering premise of a couple of teens being able to effortlessly elude armed men and trained professionals while being so good at everything without showing me how they get that way, lots of plot holes galore… sadly, at the end of the day, this movie is all fireworks with little substance. Not that this is a bad thing as I’ve had fun; I just wish a movie that makes the gamer in me so happy would also be a bit more than this.