There’s something incredibly tempting about living a fully virtual life where you’re free from physical constraints and able to be whatever you want to be. We see it in John Scalzi’s Lock In, we see it in Adventure Time’s Islands arc, and in Ready Player One we see it in all of its big screen CGI glory.
In a grim overcrowded future The Oasis is an escape from the depressing reality that is 2045 America but as the incredibly slow first hour of the movie tells us over and over, an evil corporation, IOI, wants to take over the virtual reality and turn it into a circa 1999 geocities webpage full of flashing adds and terrible autoplay music because they just don’t understand the purity of the Steve Jobs meets [big name game dev] founder James Halliday’s creation.
Because when Halliday died he activated a game to determine the future of his creation, a game where in order to win you must become an expert in all things Halliday and his obsession with 80s pop culture.
Full disclosure, I’m a 90s kid and never had much interest in 80s nostalgia. Yeah I like Star Wars and Back to the Future and was delighted with the music in Guardians of the Galaxy but when it comes to references I’m definitely more the target of this early 00’s fandom masterpiece than the actual Ready Player One.
But Wade aka Parzival (Tye Sheridan) is a lonely teen living a bleak reality and he eats it up while working to win the game and control of The Oasis. Along with rivals turned pals Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Sho they are determined to keep The Oasis out of IOI leader Nolan Serrento’s (Ben Mendhelson, brilliant as the villain as always) hands.
The first hour of Ready Player One takes place mostly in The Oasis and completely centers Wade while the film establishes the world and it’s history in the blandest way possible, a narrator just spitting the information to the audience. There’s some cool Oasis gaming scenes including a rad car race and some funny moments with Aech but it’s mostly establishing dominance through displays of trivia knowledge while breaking the show don’t tell rule.
Luckily as the film moves more into the real world and we meet the people behind the avatars and see the High Five join up the film picks up speed. The last hour as the characters move between crisis in the real world and crisis in the oasis nearing the end game almost makes up for the first, especially since the actors behind Aech, Daito and Sho (Lena Waith, Win Morisaki and Phillip Zhao) are all incredibly good together. The film morphs from slogging through nostalgia fueled self congratulatory blahness to being funny and sweet and earnest once the focus is off Parzival alone.
While the first half of the film is all trivia is the superior form of geekdom and awkward geekboy somehow managing to get the geekgirl interested the second half shows how you can form real communities online and have them translate to the real world and how there’s more to life than just knowing everything about Atari. Also there’s some incredible virtual fight scenes including a reference even I let out a little scream over.
For all that Ready Player One is a white geek boys fantasy where trivia knowledge and premature confessions of love will still land you the girl and how a diverse supporting cast exists to boost the white boy it also manages to hit all of my found family buttons and it’s hard to resist a good community joining up against corporation story.
Pros: Found family, epic virtual fight scenes, Lena Waith is a treasure
Cons: Slow beginning, trivia as gatekeeping, seeing Iron Giant in battle is wrong wrong wrong