Spielberg Delivers Retro-Hit with Ready Player One

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Ready Player One

Remember that feeling you had when you walked out of the theater after BACK TO THE FUTURE? I don't mean watching it at home on DVD (or VHS), I mean in the theater, because it means you were there, in that moment, in that era, when the 80s were in full swing and pop culture was expanding into new, uncharted waters. It was the time of the arcade games, parachute pants, and a rich variety of music that launched a renaissance.

When I sat down to watch READY PLAYER ONE, I had not seen the theatrical version. I had not read the book. And when I saw the opening scene, with its cinematically ominous Blade Hunter date and the post-apocalyptic landscape, I groaned. I didn't want another one of these.

That lasted for all of about three seconds, after which I was in sheer fanboy ecstasy for over two hours.

READY PLAYER ONE is a cybernetic fairytale adventure love story, where the kids are all right and the greedy corporatists aren't even cheered on by their own flunkies.

Wade Watts (TYE SHERIDAN, X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX) is another teenager growing up in "The Stacks" -- a sort of tenement trailer park where mobile homes are given the high-rise treatment through a unique girder construction system. Like nearly everyone else, he escapes reality by going into a virtual environment called OASIS, the brainchild of a reclusive tech genius, James Halliday (MARK RYLANCE, THE BFG) who captured within it all the pop culture of his youth. In OASIS, people can be whomever they want, do whatever they want, and get away from their daily existence.

But when Halliday died, he left behind an Easter egg in OASIS, and whoever finds it can take over the environment, and along with it a great deal of wealth. Halliday's rival company, IOI, run by the ruthless Nolan Sorrento (BEN MENDELSOHN, CAPTAIN MARVEL), wants to find that egg desperately, and employs full time armies to continually play games in the virtual reality so they can find it. IOI also serves as a sort of private prison, locking up debtors and putting them into their own VR environment to work off their debt.

As Parzival, Waid is one of many who have been trying to find the three keys to the egg, and has used his extensive studies of Halliwell's life as a guide. Through his journey, he has befriended Aech (LENA WAITHE, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE), a weapons genius in the OASIS who builds and fixes anything mechanical. They've been friends for some time, along with Sho (PHILLIP ZHAO) and Daito (WIN MORISAKI). As the movie opens, Parzival encounters a legendary huntress in the games, Art3mis (OLIVIA COOKE, BATES MOTEL), who seeks more than just the keys -- she wants revenge on IOI for what they did to her father.

The hunt for the keys has simmered down since Halliday's death, as nobody has come close to even finding the first one. But when Parzival picks up on a clue in the virtual archive of Halliwell's life, overseen by the robotic Curator (SIMON PEGG, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT), he becomes the first to obtain one of the three keys, reigniting the fervor of all the other players.

From that point forward, READY PLAYER ONE becomes a mad chase of clues and adventure, both in the virtual and real worlds. For those who lived in the 80s, the film is a tsunami of pop culture and nostalgia. Not since WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT have so many different franchises appeared on the same screen, from the Iron Giant to Mechagodzilla to Gundam to Marvin the Martian! The adventure is gripping, the twists are clever, and the happy ending is right out of a John Hughes film, as it should be.

Steven Spielberg hasn't directed a film. He's wrapped and delivered a gift for a generation who remembers the freedom of FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, the hormones of SAY ANYTHING, and the adrenaline of TRON. It's a no-brainer purchase, and easily a regular re-watch.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0