Movie Review: "Ready Player One" (2018)
Ah, nostalgia! We're all susceptible to its power. It really doesn't matter how level-headed, curmudgeonly, or just plain douchey you may be- the raw power of that happy memory association is built into the primal soul. It stands to reason that no one would understand that better than Steven Spielberg. After all, he is the man responsible for Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, Hook, etc, etc, etc. He's literally responsible for large chunks of the childhood of generations, creating timeless movies that work in any era. He's also the biggest director in the world, with a reputation that towers over Hollywood.
The 80's, in particular, are insanely hot right now. Everyone wants their story set in the days of my childhood. Would Stranger Things be what it is without the time & place? Maybe.....but it'd feel so different. Again, you don't have to tell Spielberg this.
I don't think it's off the mark to say that he's scored his biggest success in the action-adventure genre (his bread and butter) in the last couple of decades or so. Amusingly enough, the thing that a lot of critics are hating on Ready Player One for is its biggest strength. It must be frustrating to make movies that are "different than what you normally do" and get shit on for it, so you go back to the "popcorn action with heart" stuff that made you ludicrously famous and get shit on by some for manipulating people with nostalgia....as if nostalgia is a dirty thing.
If you don't know the basic plot by now, the story is all about Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men Apocalypse). Wade is a serious gamer in a dystopian future America (2045) where everyone is pretty damn miserable and the only source of escape is The Oasis, a virtual reality world of batshit crazy proportions where you can be whoever and whatever you want to be. The creator of The Oasis has died, and a worldwide hunt is on for an "easter egg" that he has hidden inside of a 3-stage puzzle race. If you win you gain ownership and control of the entire Oasis, the world's most valuable resource.
Wade and his group of online friends (aka The High Five) are the ones poised to finally solve the puzzle and win the prize. Naturally, there is a corporate evil there to oppose him and foil him at every turn. It follows the beats of big screen action to the letter. The supporting cast is more than adequate (Olivia Cooke as Samantha/Art3mis, Bates Motel; Lena Waithe as H, creator of The Chi; Ben Mendelsohn as Sorrento, Killing Them Softly) while managing not to steal the show. The great Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek) is amazing, as always, in a minimal but vitally emotional role.
In short, it doesn't break any new ground in terms of originality in story form, structure, acting chops, or widespread character development. Also, it ran a bit long. However, what it lacks in those areas it more than makes up for with endless pop-culture shout-outs and cameos, breathtaking visuals, seamless transition between the virtual and the real, & overwhelming love of all things geek.
Pandering to the audience's sense of nostalgia and love of geek culture is the biggest strength of this film. If you want to bitch about that as a negative then go right ahead. I would suggest that you lighten the fuck up and have some fun, but that's just me. I came to be entertained by a big-screen popcorn action flick, & I was damn well entertained. What did you think you were getting?
Schindler's List? Saving Private Ryan?
This is a movie that gives you King Kong, T-Rex, Atari, Gundam, Halo, a Delorean, The Holy Hand Grenade, Rubik's Cube, Back to the Future music, the Batmobile, the A-Team van, Christine, Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, TRON, War of the Worlds, Lord of the Rings, Lara Croft, Duke Nukem, Aliens, the Winnebago from Spaceballs. There are subtle gags placed throughout the film (nice Wil Wheaton pic on the mirror).
And that sequence in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining had me grinning from ear to ear like a damn idiot. I can't lie; that's where it really won me over. It was equal parts clever, hilarious, & respectful homage to sheer terror. I flat out loved it like a total fanboy.
What catches you as you hit the final act, though, is the underlying twin messages of the power of fandom/nostalgia and the need to get out there and live your life. It seemed to me to be a film ultimately about balance. The closing exchange between Wade and Oasis' creator will pull at those heartstrings a bit. It's downright poignant.
Mostly, though, it was just a damn good blockbuster; a pandering, geeky actioner that wasn't at all afraid of what it was. Thank God we still get movies like that. My childhood was full of them, after all.