By Jordan Peterson | @thefilmmajor
Cue Van Halen’s “Jump.”
A rampaging King Kong leaps from the Empire State Building, a time-traveling DeLorean narrowly escapes the chomping mandible of a hungry T-Rex, the Iron Giant mercilessly pummels Mecha-Godzilla, and Batman scales a blizzardy Mount Everest.
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. And yet somehow we’ve not even scratched the surface of all the (mostly 80s) pop culture references you can expect to find inside the dazzling virtual reality called the Matrix–sorry– the Oasis, where anyone can literally be anything by role-playing as a digital avatar (Freddy Krueger, RoboCop, or even one of the blue cat people from Avatar).
In the world of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, however, the Oasis is more than a mere “video game.” In the not-so-distant, near-dystopian future, it serves as the planet’s most valuable economic resource where in-game currency can equate to real-world wealth. Similarly, dying in-game, or “zero-ing out” as it’s referred to in the Oasis, can lose you coin in reality.
This is all important exposition that sets the stage for what’s at stake in Steven Spielberg’s big screen adaptation. The creator of the Oasis, a reclusive and socially awkward gamer named James Halliday (Mark Rylance doing his best Garth from Wayne’s World), has passed away and left behind an Easter Egg somewhere inside his creation. Whoever finds the egg first by solving three riddles and unlocking three keys will not only be awarded Halliday’s massive fortunate but also total control of the Oasis itself.
And seeing is how such a thing would ultimately mean total control of the world, not everyone in pursuit of the egg possesses the purest intentions. “Corporate douchebag” Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) heads up Innovative Online Industries (IOI for short) with the intention of claiming Halliday’s fortune for himself by exploiting the seemingly endless supply of resources of the world’s second-largest corporation. Mendelsohn is terrific in these types of villainous roles and thanks to a hammy self-awareness, Sorrento is more memorable than your typical suit-and-tie.
When Ready Player One begins, we meet our unlikely hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a supposed down-on-his-luck teenager (though Sheridan looks much older) living in the “stacks” of Columbus, Ohio (essentially a massive trailer park where trailers are stacked upon other trailers to accommodate the rapidly growing population). Like most everyone else in 2045, Wade spends most of his life inside the Oasis where he plays as his cooler, more daring alter-ego, Parzival, alongside his best and only friends.
First, there’s Olivia Cook, who steals the show as Art3mis. She’s a sassy, badass “Gunter” (egg hunter) known around the web as the “Sixer Fixer” because of how handily she takes care of IOI’s faceless, virtual goons called the Sixers. Parzival is hot for her but she doesn’t want any distractions. Then there’s Aech (pronounced like “H” and played by Lena Waithe), a large cybernetic troll-like avatar who dominates both on the battlefield and in the shop.
Last but not least there are Daito (Win Morisaki) and Shoto (Philip Zhao). Both play as ninjas and both are formidable fighters. I shan’t go into much further detail about our protagonists for fear of spoilers other than to commend the talent of this diverse and true-to-life cast. Their shared chemistry is infectious and then you’re reminded of Spielberg’s unrivaled capacity to draw compelling performances out of his young talent.
This movie demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible with eardrum-shaking surround sound. From the candy-colored visual splendor of the Oasis to the synth-ladled, head-banging soundtrack and reference-sprinkled Alan Sylvestri score, Ready Player One is also a quest for the senses.
When it comes to adventure, no director in the business is better than Steven Spielberg. Here not only does the 71 year-old filmmaker pay homage to Western pop culture throughout the ages but he utilizes newfangled visual effects to tell yet another exciting and whimsical old-school adventure like only Spielberg can (think Indiana Jones meets Minority Report).
Of course Ready Player One also bears some of the less-touted trademarks of its legendary director. Of all the arts Spielberg has mastered throughout his career, subtlety was never one of them. Consequentially, the film feels like it’s hitting you over the head with a lot of its main themes come the time to wrap everything up. Thankfully, it’s brief and by the times the credits hit, you’ll flash right back to the wild ride you just took and quite possibly find yourself yearning to take it again.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 (out of four)
Did you get a chance to check out Ready Player One? If so, what did you think? I want to hear from you so hit me up in the comments below!