GGWP - Ready Player One (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
I feel like I need to preface this review with this fact; first off I’m a fan of the novel, despite all its shortcomings I still found it to be a fun romp through nostalgia. Also, I was increasingly feeling let down by every trailer I saw up until release. So! Let’s jump on in eh? Ready Player One adapts Ernest Cline’s novel about everyman hero Wade Watts. Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, and Ben Mendelsohn. Also featuring Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg as Gregarious Games founders James Halliday and Ogden Morrow respectively.
In the very near future the world’s population spends much of their time linked up to the Oasis, a fully realized virtual world navigated by means a VR visor (similar to the Oculus Rift) and haptic gloves. What started as an MMO created by Gregarious evolved into a fully functional and realized world where people can build entire lives. Upon Halliday’s death, a contest to find his hidden Easter Egg drew the attention of every denizen on the Oasis when it was revealed that the one who found the egg would gain control of Gregarious Games and ultimately the Oasis.
The Oasis the most valuable commodity in the world; countless Egg Hunters, or “Gunters” as they are called, scour every inch of the Oasis for even a shred of a clue. One such Gunter is our protagonist Wade “Parzival” Watts (Sheridan). A poor kid from the Stacks, a trailer park metropolis where they literally stack mobile homes on top of each other, Wade hopes to change his fate by winning Halliday’s contest. Joining him is his best friend Aech (Waithe), a top level Gunter operating a kind of mecha-orc avatar, and two other high rank Gunters in Sho and Daito. In their search, world famous Gunter Art3mis joins Wade’s band of buds. This quintet are the first to make any headway into finding Halliday’s egg and they end up forming an alliance, especially in the face of Innovative Online Industries (or IOI) and their head of operations Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn). With the Oasis being so valuable, IOI hopes to bastardize Halliday’s creation by pulling a full on “Electronic Arts” on the Oasis, monetizing the service to hell short of implementing “predatory lootbox systems”. Fueled by greed, Sorrento employs every avenue he can to ensure they find Halliday’s egg before anyone else does; even employing mercenaries both in and out of the Oasis to make his “problems” go away.
As a fan of the book, I was worried that Hollywood would void what made the story so magical. I couldn’t have been more wrong. One of the most positive parts of the adaptation was how well they gave audiences an exciting two-hours-and-some-change while not chaining itself to the source material in a detrimental way. I don’t plan to go too heavy in to comparing the book and the film, but one aspect of the book that always felt a bit off was how Halliday’s challenges felt like convoluted “look-how-big-my-nerd-dick-is” coupled with a healthy dose of “well-actually”. In true Spielberg fashion, Halliday’s challenges were less about “flexing my nerd cred” and more about introspective looks into Halliday as a man and the life he led… including his greatest regrets. While the challenges Gunters face play out in spectacular in-your-face fashion, at its core these challenges focus on James Halliday the man over James Halliday’s obsessions. The journey is at times poignant amidst the spattering of pop culture references, something I didn’t expect going into it. While dealing with recognizing each nerdy reference can be a bit exhausting, it’s never TOO in your face enough to heavily sidetrack the core narrative. I thought I’d be distracted from scene to scene, but I found following the story wasn’t difficult despite the every neon soaked 80’s references.
Ready Player One boasts some of the most impressive visual effects I’ve seen in a while, the entirety of the Oasis is largely CGI, playing out like an impressive video game running on cutting edge hardware. Despite being largely CGI, the characters rarely ever devolve into the uncanny valley, even scenes where it’s obvious it was shot on a live action set, the CGI characters blend so well with the film and never felt jarring when jumping back and forth between the real world and the Oasis
While there was alot of good, the film wasn’t perfect. My two biggest complaints involve the “real world” segments and the film’s villains. First off, Ready Player One devotes alot of love to the Oasis segments but leaves the real world bit lacking. Luckily, the real world elements of Ready Player One at best cover a third of the film’s runtime so it wasn’t that big of a deal breaker. Where I feel the most let down though is how they characterized Nolan Sorrento. Sorrento was never as menacing as he should have been, rarely flexing his “I’m the villain” muscle with his mercs I-R0k (inside the Oasis) and F’Nale (real world) being the ones who get their hands dirty.
I feel that any hero needs a good villain, and honestly Nolan Sorrento never struck me as being bad enough to be a very real threat for our heroes. Sorrento felt more like a running gag than a credible bad guy, he often times relegates the dirty work to those who work for him but never is menacing enough behind the orders he barks. There are countless villains across film, comics, games, and literature that “don’t like to get their hands dirty,” that trait doesn’t bug me… what bugs me about Sorrento was how pathetic he was, more like a sniveling bootlicker than a credible antagonist. While I did enjoy Hannah John-Kamen as F’Nale and felt she brought alot to the table, she inadvertently pulled too much away from the Nolan Sorrento character… honestly I would rather have had them cast John-Kamen in the Sorrento role and switch the character’s gender.
The film’s climax is an epic battle with geeky references literally plastered against your eyeballs, some of the references were as current as Overwatch and Street Fighter while others are more niche like Battletoads and Firefly. Here is where the film goes full on in-your-face nostalgia, like it took its sweet time to tell you a story and right at the ends blows up the screen with so many references you’ll need a second watch just to catch most of them. This was one of my favorite parts of the film, second only to the bit where our heroes were trapped in a digital recreation of The Shining. Ready Player One is a damn fun exciting ride!
I wasn’t bored and I feel like I could watch this movie again and still appreciate it. In closing, this is Spielberg magic in its purest form. While Ready Player One is not a perfect film, it does have its problems and I won’t excuse them, but at the end of the day as the credits roll… I had fun, movie reviews like to obsess about hidden meanings or characterizations, that’s all well and good but sometimes the mark of a good movie boils down to the simplest thing… did you have fun?
A fun romp through nostalgia