Ready Player One: The master storyteller does it again and again
Here's the thing. I like Steven Spielberg's ability to tell stories. I've written about this many times. It matters not the genre; science fiction, romance, adventure, thriller, drama and now the world of computer games, Spielberg is the master of story on film. In the case of Ready Player One, this is good because the story is pretty flimsy and a tired trope.
It's 2045 and we are introduced to Wade (Tye Sheridan) who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in The Stacks, literally a trailer park with the trailers stacked on top of each other. Wade spends his days, as do most of the planet, living in a virtual reality world called The Oasis invented by Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Morrow (Simon Pegg). When Halliday dies, he creates a challenge whereby whoever finds the "Easter Egg" in his game will inherit his fortune and control over The Oasis. There are a series of clues and magic keys to be won by completing challenges in the game. Our hero, along with most of the human population, together with one large stereotypical evil corporation do everything they can to find and win control of The Oasis. Along the way Wade meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and falls in love. Gender fluidity is hinted at. How do you know who is who if all you ever see or know is their avatar in a computer game. This takes an underplayed twist later in teh film.
The story is predictable enough and the ending is never really in any doubt. What sets this film apart are two things - our current appetite for nostalgia and amazing visuals.
Let me first talk about the visuals. I say this in 2D and it was the first time I can ever recall sitting in a cinema wishing I was experiencing the film in 3D instead of 2D. Spielberg and his team create a fully immersive world within The Oasis that is both stunning and believable. For a film that largely takes place in a CGI world, I never once felt the CGI was lacking. To be honest, at times the pace was so fast, for example in the car race, that it's hard to spot any issues.
Stranger Things and similar series have been successful largely on our affection for the 80s and by tapping into that warm vein of nostalgia. Ready Player One does this but takes it to another level. Our hero, Wade, drives the Delorean from Back to the Future. He uses a "Zemeckis Cube" in one scene to predictable effect. Musical cues from classic films abound as do a myriad of pop culture characters: the Iron Giant, Freddy Kruger, Halo soldiers, etc. But for me, the trip to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was a standout moment. I forgave the grainy film stock used which contrasted with the CGI.
I'm sure you will spot many more pop cultural references than I and for that reason, a second viewing is needed.
It's an enjoyable romp with a heaping helping of feel-good cultural references with an ending that would please even ET.