Directed by Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One is based on the novel by Ernest Cline set in a dystopian 2045 about the virtual reality world called the OASIS that was created by eccentric billionaire James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Before he died, he created a contest to find a secret Easter Egg he hid in the game where the winner inhabits full control of the OASIS. The book’s novelty was that it was crammed to the rim with pop culture references, and the movie doesn’t skimp on these references either.
Ready Player One was a ton of fun, and a super entertaining Spielberg movie that manages to give the audience every single reference and callback it could get its hands on without feeling too distracting. Personally, I had pretty low expectations of Ready Player One from the trailers alone and I thought that it would rely too much on this gimmick of pop culture references after more pop culture references, but it handled that aspect just fine and the references, while fun to spot, don’t take away from the overall movie. A general complaint about the book is that a lot of the references feel sometimes shoehorned in, and some parts of the book are just lists of pop culture beloved by Halliday. Luckily, that’s not too present in the movie, and although there are references galore, they’re not just blatantly listed or name-dropped. That’s not the only thing changed by the movie. It removes and changes large sections of the book, with all of the challenges to find the Egg being different from the book. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just a heads-up to big fans of the book (myself included): the spirit of the book is still there, although big parts of the plot and world are changed.
The performances from all of the cast are superb. Tye Sheridan is great as Parzival/Wade Watts (his OASIS/real world name), the main hero of the movie, a kid who goes on the hunt for Halliday’s egg. We’re always rooting for Wade throughout the movie, and Sheridan’s charismatic believable performance helps. Olivia Cooke is also terrific as Art3mis, a fellow avatar on the hunt for the Easter Egg. Her character is endlessly cool and gets to kick quite a bit of butt in the OASIS as well as gets a solid backstory and part in the real world. Mark Rylance is fantastic as James Halliday and really brings a lot to the character. He gives a very eccentric performance that fits the writing of the character well and gets one great scene near the end. Ben Mendelsohn plays the CEO of the company IOI, Nolan Sorrento, who wants to take over the OASIS, and has a lot of fun with the role. His character gets a lot to do and is very entertaining throughout the whole movie. There is one performance from a secondary villain that feels really forced and just didn’t come off as believable.
As great as the cast is, few of the characters get arcs or any development at all. Many of the characters feel underwritten and are very surface-level: we learn the gist of their character, and they aren’t fleshed out much and don’t advance at all over the course of the movie. The supporting characters are especially subject to this: we don’t really get to know a ton about any of them and they just sort of show up to fill out their role in the story. Even Parzival and Art3mis, the “main” characters, get very scarce arcs and remain very much the same throughout. Again, their characters are very fun to watch, but they don’t get developed much.
Steven Spielberg is behind the camera here and gives us a movie that really does feel like a spectacle. He’s a very visual director, and utilizes the giant budget to give us something that feels awesome as much as it looks awesome: the chase sequences are thrilling and we always feel transported inside of the OASIS whenever we enter it. Speaking of the visuals in this movie, it looks amazing. Much of the OASIS is CGI, and the way it’s rendered is vibrant, immersive, and realistic, but at the same time feels like it’s another world. The CGI on the characters (inside the OASIS, that is) is fantastic as well.
This really is a movie made for people that love movies and pop culture as much as the characters do, but that’s not to say that it’s not accessible to everyone else. There are SO MANY REFERENCES which is definitely appealing to movie and video game fans (like myself) as well as fans of the book, but it doesn’t alienate the movie to everyone else: it’s a perfectly enjoyable movie all the same. Some of the references are really fun to watch on screen: seeing the Batmobile race against a DeLorean from Back to the Future and seeing the Iron Giant fill up the screen in a giant battle alongside various recognizable video game characters is something that you’re not going to get anywhere else. There is also one sequence that’s essentially a living Easter Egg, which I’m not going to give away here, that is one of the best scenes in the movie and is super entertaining to watch. Ready Player One does have a nice message at the end and it’s interesting to see these characters going into the OASIS to escape the harsh realities of the real world: this was one of the more intriguing concepts in the book, and it’s explored here a little bit as well. As great as other parts of the script are, the romance between Parzival and Art3mis took a big hit when the book was converted into a 2 and a half hour movie. in the book, their relationship is a little bit more believable because they actually get time to know each other, but in the movie, it feels quite rushed. Parzival claims he develops serious feelings for Art3mis after only a few exchanges and this leads to scenes revolving around their romance feeling forced, even. Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke have solid chemistry, but the writing of their characters’ relationship isn’t great.
Alan Silvestri, who did the score for Back to the Future, composed the score for this movie, and it was great. It’s thrilling, grand, and really fits the spectacle of the movie. The soundtrack as well is filled with fun 80s hits that pair with the endless 80s references as well.
Ready Player One is 2 and a half hours long, and it mostly utilizes that well. It’s a very fast-paced movie, and never really feels boring. Brisk as the pacing is, the movie does drag on too much in the third act. It could have been much tighter, had it cut out a good 20 or so minutes near the end.
Ready Player One is a super fun time and proves to go beyond its (still awesome) references, with great performances and gorgeous visuals, although it does run into a few problems involving the supporting characters and length.