Director Steven Spielberg—you may have heard of him—has been involved in the production of some of the greatest adventure movies we’ve ever seen. And while his newest, Ready Player One, won’t likely be remembered as fondly as, say, the first three Indiana Jones movies, it’s another thrilling adventure that feels both familiar and fresh, and contains what might possibly be the largest number of pop culture references and cameos in any movie that has ever been made.
Set in 2044, the film follows a group of young people as they take part in a competition inside of a virtual world called the OASIS. It’s a 24/7 Second Life sort of place that has entire levels dedicated to various other games, real-world ideas, places, and activities, and essentially allows you to do anything you want at any time, accessed anywhere in the world through virtual reality goggles and a special body suit. It’s where people go to escape the real world, many of whom wind up spending more time inside the OASIS than they do outside of it.
Unfortunately, its inventor (Mark Rylance) died and upon his death a video was released detailing a hidden Easter egg inside of the virtual world. Find and complete three challenges and you become the sole proprietor of the game, in addition to an incredible amount of money. There are several individuals and clans trying to win, including an evil corporation who wants to control it to make more money. They’re going up against our protagonist, Wade (Tye Sheridan), and an eventual group of rag-tag teenagers he teams up with in order to save the virtual world they know and love.
You can probably see how Ready Player One feels like a Spielberg movie already. A group of kids banding together to go up against an evil, greedy, corporation? You probably couldn’t hire a better person to make this kind of movie. And given how influential he was in shaping ’80s pop culture, he’s an even more perfect fit. He knows it, he certainly knows how to make an adventure movie, and marrying the two together becomes the main challenge. He’s up to the task.
It’s a fun adventure movie that never stops moving and is continually a visual delight.
The plot is solid. It stays engaging enough to justify its 140-minute running time, never feeling like a slog. The world it creates is pretty fascinating—the type of place that you almost don’t want to leave. You just want to wander around and explore, learning all about what it has to offer. The film opens with a brief explanation and tour, and it’s amazing. You can understand why people prefer to spend there instead of the real world, of which the film doesn’t show a ton, but the future it imagines for us isn’t the most optimistic.
So, where does it misstep? Most of its characters are ultimately pretty thin—only a couple of them get anything resembling depth—and while the pop culture references are largely background elements rather than the focus, they still get a little distracting. It’s enjoyable seeing all of these characters on screen, and on screen together, but it gets to be a bit much. And it has some … interesting ideas about the people who are likely to be the ones most eagerly lining up to see it, which comes across oddly.
Still, when it works, it works, and Ready Player One works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s a fun adventure movie that never stops moving and is continually a visual delight. Those two elements alone are enough to make it a decent watch. It has several great sequences, an impressive world to explore, and more pop culture references than you’ll be able to count. Its characters are a bit thin and it might partially alienate some of its audience by the end with a few quips and messages about them, but I had fun with it.
Conclusion: Ready Player One is a fun time at the movies.
Recommendation: If you like ’80s pop culture, nerd culture in general, or adventure movies, Ready Player One is worth your time.