In stark contrast to The Post (released only a few months earlier), Ready Player One – adapted from Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel – is an entertaining blockbuster built on pop culture nostalgia.
It takes place in the year 2045 with the world in deep disrepair (the reasons why only fleetingly referenced). As a way of escaping the day-to-day drudgery of life, Wade (Tye Sheridan), along with most of Earth’s other inhabitants, use OASIS; a virtual reality world that takes fantasy to another level.
The architect of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), planned an Easter Egg hunt before his death, made up of three keys hidden in various locations. The collector of all three keys be handed control of the OASIS to do with whatever they please. The first of which is discovered by Wade’s avatar Parzival during a rather explosive drag race, in which the participants are chased down by everything from swinging wrecking balls to terrorising monsters in the shape of King Kong and Jurassic Park’s iconic T-Rex.
As the first key holder, Wade becomes an overnight celebrity, heeding the advice of fellow player Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) by altering his Parzival’s appearance slightly to avoid unwanted attention. The two team up, hoping to find all three keys before the IOI, the second largest internet provider headed up by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who plans on using his employees to win, restoring his company to their former place at the top.
Most of the action takes place within the OASIS as the characters’ avatars explore the never-ending world, competing for the keys along the way. The second task takes them inside The Shining of all places. However, on the outside, Wade and his cohorts do their best to scupper Sorrento’s plans from inside the IOI.
It’s a fun, past-paced ride of a film, powered along by a soundtrack that’s littered with upbeat ’80s hits and visuals that zing. Spielberg, who hasn’t hit the blockbuster sweet spot with this kind of spectacle-focused film since Jurassic Park (the likes of Tintin and The BFG are no real contenders), wins us over with his knowledge, keen eye and interest in making the audience smile and shout with excitement from the inside out.
The performances and real-world scenes are perhaps what let the film down. It’s not that Sheridan, Cooke and their cohorts are bad, it’s mostly that the scenes in Colorado don’t have the same spark than the ones exclusively set within the OASIS.
Much like those left on the bandwidth rioted world, audiences are as keen for escape as anyone – and what Spielberg delivers in a VR realm that could well be where real society is headed is second to none and pure, unadulterated fun. The pop culture nods alone (Freddy Krueger! The DeLorean! The Iron Giant!) will have you itching for a second helping.