I’M PRESSING START!!! LET ME PLAY!!!
Alrighty, so for those of you that don’t know, this movie is based on a novel of the same name back in 2011, written by Ernest Cline, and has certainly garnered a respectable fanbase. Hell, Hollywood seemed to have so much faith in this movie that Warner Bros. won the rights to make a movie out of it in an auction in 2010 before the book was even published. The author of the book would go on to write a script… which would get re-written by another screenwriter… which would eventually get rewritten by another screenwriter, which makes me kind of nervous about how this will be written.
So for you nerds out there, no, I have not read the book. Remember, I am uncultured swine. And irony of ironies, I am a writer, but I hate to read. I don’t even like reading my own work. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these reviews are written in one go with very little revision. But yeah, I’ve never read the book.
The story looks like it’s set in dystopic world and the only escape everyone has is a virtual reality sandbox video game world where you can do whatever you want, be whatever you want, etcetera. Apparently, the maker of the virtual world passes away and leaves behind the secret to controlling the entire video game world and everyone, including his… business partner? Professional rival? wants control of it for reasons that I don’t think are revealed in the trailer.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Tye Sheridan (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE  and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX ), Olivia Cooke (THOROUGHBREDS , ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL , OUIJA , and upcoming films LIFE ITSELF  and COURTING DANGER ), and Ben Mendelsohn (DARKEST HOUR , THE DARK KNIGHT RISES , VERTICAL LIMIT , and upcoming films UNTOGETHER  and ROBIN HOOD ). In support, we have T.J. Miller (EMOJI MOVIE , BIG HERO 6 , CLOVERFIELD , and upcoming films DEADPOOL 2  and UNDERWATER ), Simon Pegg (STAR TREK BEYOND , THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER , SHAUN OF THE DEAD , and upcoming films TERMINAL  and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT ), Mark Rylance (DUNKIRK , THE BFG , and BRIDGE OF SPIES ), Ralph Ineson (HURRICANE HEIST , STAR WARS: LAST JEDI , and THE WITCH ), and Letitia Wright (BLACK PANTHER  and THE COMMUTER ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have the living legend himself, Steven Spielberg, known for THE POST (2018), THE BFG, MINORITY REPORT (2002), JURASSIC PARK (1993), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC (1981), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1977), and the upcoming untitled Indiana Jones movie (2020). Co-writing the screenplay are Zak Penn (THE INCREDIBLE HULK , INSPECTOR GADGET , and the upcoming SUICIDE SQUAD 2 ) and Ernest Cline (FANBOYS ). Composing the score is veteran composer Alan Silvestri, known for ALLIED (2016), LILO & STITCH (2002), MOUSEHUNT (1997), THE ABYSS (1989), and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and THE WOMEN OF MARWEN (2018). The cinematographer is Janusz Kaminski, known for THE POST, THE BFG, THE TERMINAL (2004), and LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997). Finally, the co-editors are Sarah Broshar (THE POST, and the upcoming HIGHER POWER ) and Michael Kahn (THE POST, THE BFG, WAR OF THE WORLDS , TWISTER , INDIANA JONES: LAST CRUSADE , and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS).
Overall, I’m excited to see the talent at work, both in front of and behind the camera. This feels like it’s a little outside of Spielberg’s comfort zone, but maybe that’s why he’s doing it. I guess if anyone would know anything about nostalgia and how to best utilize it, it’d be him. I can’t say I’m uber excited for the flick as a whole, but I’m curious to see if the hype is warranted.
This is my honest opinion of: READY PLAYER ONE
Set in Columbus, Ohio, circa 2049. The world has become a dystopia, many people living in rundown neighborhoods, living bleak existences. Their only escape is the revolutionary virtual reality sandbox video game world, the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, or OASIS, where gamers can be and do whatever they want. OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passed away some time ago, but not before leaving all users with a challenge: hidden within OASIS is an Easter egg, a reward that would grant the user that finds it complete control of the virtual world, while finding a trio of hidden keys that will unlock clues to its whereabouts. Insofar, no one has found a single key, not by the common user, nor from the nefarious Innovative Online Industries, or IOI, the leading developers of the equipment used to access OASIS.
The story follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teenager and like everyone, is a hardcore user of OASIS and is one of many who seeks to find the secrets, but to no avail, under the guise of Parzival. Even having user friends like the tech expert Aech (Lena Wraithe), the ninja Sho (Philip Zhao), the samurai Daito (Win Morisaki), and befriending his long time crush, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), the secrets are well hidden behind supposedly-impossible obstacles. However, being a particular fan of the late Halliday himself, Wade accesses Halliday’s recorded memories and discovers a secret within the levels, which grants him and his friends the very first key. But as their popularity grows, IOI takes greater notice and threaten Wade, not just in the virtual world, but in the real world as well.
Oh yeah, this was a lot of fun. I doubt I like this movie nearly as much as those that read the book, or hell, maybe those that read the book hate it, I don’t know, but I really liked this movie.
Let me just get this out of the way, I am a casual gamer. I have an X-Box One, so I keep up with the current generations of games and consoles. So I can definitely appreciate a lot that this movie did. The OASIS is a sandbox world, for you non-gamers, basically means you have an open world to explore and do pretty much whatever you want with very few restrictions. Think in terms of World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, among many others. Obviously, this movie takes this concept and multiplies it by a million. When this game world says “be anyone, do anything” they pretty much mean it. You can join any race, take part in any battle, there’s even an insinuation that you can offer services for money, like fixing vehicles or building machines. To make matters even more interesting is that you can collect items in the game and sell them for real world money that can pay off debts and rent, and everything like that, which seems to be how it all works for everyone. Some do play for sport and fun, but others seem to try and make real ends meet.
In a lot of ways, this is probably one of the greatest assets of the movie: it makes you want to go in this world and explore it for yourself. It really immerses you into the endless possibilities and makes you want to try it all. I tell you, I really wanted those goggles. I really wanted that treadmill that went in every direction. I really wanted this OASIS set-up. As a gamer, I already had my ideas of what I’d want my avatar to look like and what things I wanted to take part in. My mind was racing with ideas and I was having almost too much fun with it.
While I’ll talk about the characters in a bit, I do want to point out that I really enjoyed Mendelsohn as the villain. He is so… douchie. I mean, dude, he’s a skinny old white guy in a business suit, and his avatar in OASIS is a giant, square-jawed, colossal, muscular dude… IN A BUSINESS SUIT!!! I mean, how do you not lovingly hate a dude this repetitive and confident in his own self-image?! It’s so stupid, but I love it so much! Plus, it’s nice to know that he is a bit of a cowardly ass-hole. There’s a scene where he’s issuing commands to his security chief, F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen), or whoever she is, but then she throws him serious sass his way and he gets a little jarred by her assertiveness, realizing that his domain is in OASIS, not the real world. I loved it. Mendelsohn tickled me; that’s all I can say about it.
The creativity is off the charts. I love how the real world looks, what with literal stacks of trailer houses on top of each other, the way people interact in OASIS with the multi-directional treadmill, the sheer amount of references and cameos made by so many pop culture movies and modern video games, it’s certainly a visual spectacle and that’s what seriously carries the film through to the end.
Arguably, the only truly good character in the movie is Samantha. Never mind that Cooke is turning into one of my favorite actresses working right now as she has so much charisma and talent in both drama and comedy, but she was given a really good role to work with. Art3mis is a bad-ass, she’s got all the awesome items, she’s a borderline celebrity in how much she accomplishes, she’s no-nonsense, ruthless, reckless, brave, all that good stuff. But as Samantha, she lost both her parents, her father to IOI, giving her a deeper reason to want to win the struggle for control of OASIS. She’s willing to sacrifice herself for everyone, is resourceful, an all-around better character than anyone in the movie.
But before anyone thinks that I have only praises to say, there are a few things that I didn’t like about this movie.
First off, the romance between Wade and Samantha comes out of nowhere and isn’t well-developed. Actually, this might take a little bit of explaining. The mutual romance comes out of nowhere, and that really bothered me. It’s one thing when Wade is the one with the hormonal urges, professing his love for Art3mis, but this had some redemptive moments when she didn’t return the feelings. On the one hand, he says his own name out loud and she gets mad at him. First off, Wade is kinda creepy on this note. He is literally in love with a video game character. He doesn’t know what Art3mis really looks like, despite seeing all her walkthroughs. At the end of the day, who she is in-game is likely, and in the end apparent, not who she really is in real life. Essentially, by meeting Samantha in the flesh, we’re being introduced to a whole new character. This means a whole new dynamic to their relationship, new avenues to their characters to explore both for the characters themselves, and the audience. But the movie treats it almost like there’s no differences at all. Granted, I have to admit that Wade isn’t pressing the matter every few minutes, but I still feel like there wasn’t enough development of her feelings for him. There never seemed to be enough time for it. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting winded from seeing a man and woman getting together in action-packed movies and would like to see them just be awesome together instead of romantically together.
Also, pretty much all of the characters are bland. Both Sho and Daito are likely only in the movie because of the book, Daito getting the shorter end of the stick as the most forgettable character in the movie. But as for both Wade and Aech, what do we really know about them? While their interactions are pretty fun, as Aech does give Wade a lot of shit like any close friend would, we don’t really know much about them as individuals. Aech fixes and builds things and doesn’t like scary movies. Okay… but that’s about all we learn.
The only reason why Sho is more memorable than Daito is because he’s an eleven year old kid who constantly has comments about his age when they meet him in the real world. Although I do love his line, “What, do I need a sign around my neck that says, ‘I’m eleven years old’?” Oh and after Samantha wants to hug him, he rejects her saying, “Uh, ninjas don’t hug.” Loved that.
And Wade? Wade’s even worse, and he’s the main character! He’s a super nerd for Halliday. We know that his parents died and he now lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch). Here’s the thing, we never really get an intimate sense of his relationship with Alice. We know that Alice finds herself with abusive boyfriends. Is this a Harry Potter situation where she never really wanted to take care of him? Does she love him, but focuses more on her relationships with her asshole boyfriends? Does he love her? Are they close? Does he defend or stand up for her when he can? There is so little development between him and the last member of his family that when she gets axed off, no one really feels anything. And I mean, nobody. Wade barely looks like he’s affected by it, only referencing Alice once and only once more, and the audience can’t feel for him if he’s not reacting properly.
This is the biggest problem I have with the movie, especially with Wade. Prior to Alice’s murder, Wade is scolded by Samantha for living too much in the virtual world and not living in the real world. This should have been that pivotal moment for Wade. If we had gotten some real human moments between Wade and Alice, her death would have carried more weight with the audience. And if Wade’s motivations more focused on vengeance or justice against Sorrento, then we would be more engaged to his character and the actions he takes to winning the contest. But… no, his aunt dies, he runs for his life, and he is brought in by Samantha and her “resistance” and suddenly THE POWER OF BONERS CANNOT BE DENIED!!! If I were to allow my man-brain to take over, I would say, “Come on, it’s Olivia Cooke, it would happen to the most self-controlled of us,” but no, God damn it! That’s what the 80’s are for: burly, muscles-for-brains, manly-men who just need to show up with those muscles and that’s an immediate panty-dropper. But this is 2018! Screenwriting should have evolved past this shit by now. Believe it or not, it’s okay for a man, who is single, to put his feelings for an attractive woman on hold to mourn and grieve for the loss of his last living relative. Just saying!
Ultimately, it’s hard for me to say how I really feel about it. I think I’ll say… it’s not a good story, but I still enjoy it. It certainly plays to my inner gamer-nerd and that’s probably the intention of the movie anyway. Much like a George Miller movie, the environment and the action are the stars of the show, not the characters. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if less time was spent on their emotional problems that get no real development, but when you get into OASIS, the movie had me eating out of the palm of its hand. From the visuals, to the references, to the music, both the soundtrack and the score, it’s well worth it for pretty much anyone who loved the 80’s, 90’s, and even for present day audiences. It’s thirty years of nostalgia crammed into a glorious action-fest. While I don’t think it’s “movie of the year,” I still recommend it, even at full price. Maybe pass on the 3D though. I saw it in 3D and I didn’t care much for it. I saw it once, but I want to see it at least one more time in theaters. Still up for debate if I want to own this on Blu-Ray when the time comes, but I doubt I’d complain if I had it in my library. The adventure is big… the characters are thin.
My honest rating for READY PLAYER ONE: 4/5