Steven Spielberg returns to the silver screen just two months after his Oscar nominated drama The Post to present an adaption of Ernest Cline’s popular novel Ready Player One. It’s a tale gloriously steeped in nostalgia, and marks an ambitious undertaking for the venerable filmmaker, but it simply couldn’t have been left in more reliable hands. This is his domain, and unsurprisingly, what transpires is a magical cinematic experience.
Set in the year 2045, our story begins in Columbus, Ohio, where the world is now gripped with virtual reality, and in particular, a game entitled OASIS, started by the eccentric visionary James Halliday (Mark Rylance), which allows players to put on a pair of glasses and have them transported to a whole other world, where they navigate their way around as their avatar, making friends and enemies in this fictional landscape. For Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) it’s a means of escaping the harsh realities of his poverty-stricken life, as he becomes Parzival – and he’s determined to be the user that completes the challenge that Halliday left just before he died.
Halliday has promised his entire fortune to the player who can complete his mission, which is to find the three keys in the OASIS, following all of his hidden messages and clues, effectively embarking on a treasure hunt with a worthwhile prize at the end. Within the game Wade befriends fellow players Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe) in a bid to solve this puzzle, though they find themselves up against a nefarious super-force, as businessman Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has hired hundreds of people to master the game and work on his behalf, in a bid to get his hands on the winnings.
This unashamedly entertaining blockbuster thrives in its overly cinematic tendencies, with the set-pieces so well-judged and crafted. And yet despite that it truly comes into its element when more subtle and human, particularly during the romantic sequences between Parzical and Art3mis, which is of great commendation to Spielberg, for we know they are effectively two alter-egos falling in love, with one scene standing out as Just My Imagination by The Temptations plays in the background (a somewhat fitting choice of song). The film’s emotional heartbeat comes thanks to Rylance however, and while he doesn’t even have much time on screen he still steals every single scene he’s in, bringing such nuance to his role, in spite of the grandiose surroundings. There’s a sadness within his eyes comparable to the late, great John Cazale – and there is no higher compliment than that.
Ready Player One also works as a satire on our virtual lives we lead in contemporary society, how we present ourselves as being somebody we’re not, better versions of ourselves in avatar form, almost living vicariously through them. We turn that notion on its head too, fantasising over the blurring of the line between reality and fiction, and how we can become these alter egos in real life, using our online personas to give us strength, and make us better people in the real world.
Much of this will appeal to a younger crowd, and yet the feature has so much in there for the older generation, infused with nostalgia throughout. Though you just know that when you were 12 years old this could so easily be a film you could become obsessed by, even if the vast majority of pop culture references would have gone right over your head.
Ready Player One is released on March 29th.