Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park”)
Written by: Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) & Ernest Cline (“Fanboys”)
One could fairly say I’m an easy mark for what “Ready Player One” brings to the table, at least on a surface level. A quick look at how I, a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, live my day-to-day life would certainly lead you to believe I’d be all the way down for a movie with references to “Back to the Future,” the Bigfoot monster truck, Pizza Hut’s old logo, “Jurassic Park,” and even its ill-fated summer of 1993 competition “Last Action Hero,” for crying out loud.
Yes, I have inflatable “Star Wars: Episode I” promotional Pepsi cans in my living room to go with several McDonald’s Happy Meal displays, so I clearly love bathing in consumerist nostalgia. But I still like a good, fun story to go with my warm fuzzies, and thankfully Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” delivers.
Set in 2045 Columbus, Ohio after some unknown near-apocalyptic event (something called “The Corn Syrup Riots” is mentioned), the population spends its free time inside the Oasis, a virtual world that doubles as a giant online multiplayer game and sort of the next evolution of social media. One of those is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teen who goes by the name Parzival while in the Oasis, his avatar a wispy, elven humanoid who drives a modified version of Doc Brown’s Delorean time machine. He and best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), a giant, tech-savvy ogre, are “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters,” which means they’re looking for a treasure left behind in the virtual world by its late creator, James Halliday (Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Mark Rylance). Whoever find’s Halliday’s Easter Egg gets control of the Oasis, which is why Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his company IOI are eager to find it for themselves in order to infinitely monetize the user experience. It’s up to Parzival, Aech, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and their other Gunter friends to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Based on the best-selling (and highly divisive among nerds) novel by Ernest Cline (also a co-writer here), “Ready Player One” wisely broadens its horizons under Spielberg’s direction. Gone are the inside-baseball challenges that faced the characters in the book, esoterica like completing a level of “Dungeons & Dragons” or reenacting a scene from “WarGames,” instead replaced with huge race littered with recognizable vehicles from movies and video games and sequence inside a very famous haunted hotel where blood takes the elevator. Spielberg recognizes the appeal that filling the screen with pop culture artifacts brings, and even gets to play with some of the toys he first unleashed decades ago, like a ravenous T-rex that chomps at racers. But it’s far from the empty nostalgia that can make some recoil, instead a mondo-Spielbergian adventure in a future that it opines may not be as unlikely as it seems. Now, where can I get a Mayor Goldie Wilson re-election poster?