Welcome to the OASIS, the virtual reality cyberspace that has given mankind the ability to live within a video gaming universe through bodily technology. Through these advances, nearly anything is possible through the futuristic forms of automation. It’s eerily resemblant to a modern-day VR chatroom in which we have access to in the present.
Director Steven Spielberg is triumphant as Ready Player One is candidly visionary. The cinematography is breathtakingly crisp, the picture is clear, and you almost feel as if you could slip into the hypnotic world that he had elicited from the 2011 novel that shares the title. Despite the dizzying battle scenes, Ready Player One puts a positive connotation to the phrase “in your face.”
The year is changed from the book’s 2044 to 2045, but other details are up to par. Wade Watts/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) introduces us to the shambling remains of Columbus, Ohio, and the slummed region of “The Stacks” where he resides with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend. Watts quickly overviews the OASIS and the demolition of the Midwest, the loss of his parents, the abundance of hope in which the virtual world gives those who are around him, and the praise given to the late creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance.)
Spielberg is a mastermind when it comes to linking both old and new aspects of popular culture into this sensory-overloaded film. We see Blizzard’s Overwatch’s ‘Tracer’ on multiple accounts, a “skin” taken from Clark Kent’s classic disguise, samurais from Mortal Kombat, the twins from The Shining, another version of Clark Kent, Chucky, Harley Quinn, King Kong, Mechagodzilla, and of course, the Iron Giant himself. That isn’t the mere extent of it, the list goes on, as there are colossal sequences where masses of character and personal avatars join forces.
Following the death of OASIS programmer Halliday, he had left an Easter Egg in his wake. It was said that whoever found it would be rewarded with the ownership of his creation as well as being paid handsomely for their success. In order to find this ultimate Easter Egg, however, those who dwelled in the OASIS must find three keys before unlocking fame and power. Three keys mean three challenges.
Within the online world, there is a disconnection between human contact and online relationships, as avatars and screen names are the perfect image of how each person envisions themselves. Watts speaks fondly of his best friend Helen/Aech (Lena Waithe) though acknowledges that they’ve never really met. In fact, all “real” names are revealed later in the film when these teens team up.
The first challenge is a racing game, where the key is said to lye beyond the finish line. Life in this alternate reality may seem like it’s harmless fun, but any “death” results in the real world loss of financial demise and the online task of “respawning,” leaving any achievements or any possessions to be removed from a “profile.”
During the first challenge, we meet our root antagonist, Innovative Online Industries, known as IOI, and their head, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn.) The plot of wanting to take over a company for personal gain may be cliche but remains to be entertaining. It could be coincidental, or completely intentional, but IOI could represent the “1” and “0” that is used for technological coding.
We also meet Samantha Cook/Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) in this scene, as she joins the race alongside eager competitors in hopes to gain the key and advance towards victory. Her screen name, Art3mis, is well-known throughout the OASIS and causes Watts to waver when he recognizes her. The first race’a finish line is guarded by King Kong, in which leaves no racer unharmed if they manage to get within his reach
Watts, knowing this, saves Cook from Kong’s clutches, knowing that one undercalculated leap on her motorbike will doom her. We get a better look at Cook’s avatar and her character as Watts offers the repair of her bike, as Aech is keen with machinery.
Aech isn’t too welcoming of Cook as she seems to invade her workspace. Here, we see famed starships and other vehicles alike, such as the Imperial Falcon and the Delorean, as well as the construction of the Iron Giant. Aech, due to her masculine orc-ish “skin,” hides her gender identity, and warns Watts about the masking of other’s identities.
Watts uses his past knowledge on Halliday by excessively studying the archives of his life, in which he builds a relationship with the curator (Simon Pegg.) He and Cook scour the memories, pulling hidden clues from specific scenes, dates, and writings that the creator had left behind. Through the utilization of these finely-grained details, it unlocks the “cheats” in order to win the keys. The curator rewards Watts with a simple coin, which he insists that he carry with him.
The visuals that are used to enhance Ready Player one are absolutely gorgeous.The effects give off the same feeling as if the filmgoers are placed in the middle of the action and are experiencing the same thrills alongside the characters. The film is an absolute joyride from start to finish and never seems to miss a beat as it falls in step with its own tempo.
The lack of romance which Halliday had experienced haunts his past, leaving the next challenge for the trio, accompanied by Tyto/Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao) to navigate through scenes from “The Shining.” Aech serves as comic relief, as her uncertainty about the terrain mixes with her apprehension for horror films. How did they, of all movies, end up in ‘The Shining?’ Simply because Stephen King hated the adaptation of the movie from his book.
An ambush at the nightclub from 101 announces Sorrento a greater threat than he seemed to be at the beginning of the film, as he is determined to kill Watts due to his leaderboard ranking and possession of Halliday’s keys. Art3mis seeks her own vengeance on IOI as they had been behind the death of her parents, leaving her orphaned.
Once Watts reveals his offline identity, Sorrento, with the aide of I-R0K (T.J. Miller,) sets out to deceive him and con him into handing over the potential ownership of the OASIS into his hands. The empty promises of fame and power are nothing to sway him, however, as he sees through the transparency of the lies and promptly declines. Because of the declination, Sorrento retaliates by destroying “The Stacks.”
The High Five team stumbles into each other, as they take refuge in Aech’s van, and join forces to take down the forces that threaten their OASIS. Though they may not be what they seem, the team clicks online and off.
An orb is supplied by I-R0k, which secures the terrain of the third key by an “impenetrable” forcefield. Cook is taken prisoner by those at IOI, which leaves the team, taking the name High Five, to free her in the midst of their overall mission.
Sorrento’s gaming rig is hacked, and the hack allows the entirety of the OASIS to gather at the third key’s location, engaging in overall war against IOI and the assembled force of “Sixers,” or the nameless IOI employees. The key’s location is found in the video game “Adventure,” which was the first game programmed to contain an Easter Egg.
Though Watts faces death, he remembers the small token in which he had received from the curator- the coin in which he carried with him. But on the opposite face, is an extra life.
The final battle is an incredible sequence of events as the war quickly unfolds into a scene of chaotic, overwhelming excitement as the Iron Giant and Mechagodzilla go head-to-head. The scene is, yes, an overload of sights and sounds, yet in the most pleasing way. The battle is a total free-for-all and looks like a video game’s actual gameplay.
Watts, once he wins the final key, he meets with Halliday’s avatar for the third time. It dawns on him that the reason that Halliday was so willing to turn over his creation, was that it had ruined him. The final test is if Watts will sign himself away, which he doesn’t.
The OASIS is restored to peace, and Watts meets Halliday as he materializes him into his childhood. Halliday is socially awkward, his speech is slowed, and he seems to hinder himself through his own exhaustion. He delves into his own loneliness, noting that Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) was his only friend, before handing the Easter Egg over to Watts. When questioned when it was really Halliday, though he had died, it leaves audiences guessing what really represents him. What exactly is he?
The film comes to its heartwarming conclusion as High Five is celebrated, Watts gets the girl, and the gaming company is shared between them. Overall, its a feel-good cliche ending to a thrilling journey. Morrow approaches Watts, flipping him a coin during their conversation, which gives away that he was the curator all this time and Halliday’s only friend.
Ready Player One is literally a gamer’s paradise, a dazzling film that never seems to slow down. Spielberg’s work is outstanding as this thrill ride dares to reach the infinite bounds of imagination, and is a pure delight that packs a pop-cultured pumped punch.