28th March 2018 (UK) 29th March (US)
When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.
Olivia Cooke, Letitia Wright, Tye Sheridan
In terms of games and movies, an ‘Easter Egg’ is a hidden message, inside joke or a secret feature hidden in scenes, menus or levels. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is full to the brim with such novelties, but in reality, the film as a whole has more in common with its chocolatey counterpart – it is an indulgent and pleasurable treat which, when you crack through its enticing, nostalgia-sprinkled outer layer is ultimately a hollow sampling of a product that isn’t as enjoyable as having a whole bar.
Based on the 2011 novel of the same name, Ready Player One follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Apocalypse, Mud) in the year 2045 as he escapes his reality of vertically stacked trailers in Columbus through a virtual world called the OASIS using his avatar Parzival. Created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies, Dunkirk), the OASIS is an immersive and addictive place where the majority of humanity spend their time. The coins they earn while in the OASIS can be transferred to real-world currency too – but if they die in the game their balance resets to zero in both worlds also. There are absolutely no limits to what you can do or who you can be in the OASIS and as such a plethora of pop culture icons inhabit the VR paradise.
Upon his death, Halliday created a quest, the prize of which being his fortune and control of the OASIS to the player who successfully finds three keys hidden within the vast world he created. But after five years, every key remains undiscovered. That is until Wade realises Halliday littered clues throughout the OASIS which aid in the hunt. So along with his online friends Art3mis, Aech, Daito and Shoto, Parzival sets out to decipher the hints and essentially ‘beat’ the game.
With such a substantial jackpot at stake, Parzival and his clan, known collectively as High Five, aren’t the only ones vying to triumph. Their biggest threat comes in the form of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), a ruthless corporate suit who owns Innovative Online Industries (AKA IOI) – the company who manufactures most of the virtual reality equipment used to access the OASIS. IOI is basically enslaving thousands of players to win for Sorrento too, who intends to use it for stacking the odds against High Five to an almost impossible level. Can the group battle the might of a corporation and use their combined knowledge of both popular culture and information about Halliday himself to save the OASIS from falling into the hands of Sorrento?
Ready Player One’s plot is a familiar one, but let’s be honest: you’re not watching it for its narrative, are you? It’s biggest selling point is the abundance of existing intellectual properties crammed into the OASIS. On this front, Ready Player One does not disappoint. Of course, I’m not going to give them away here because A) there’s far too many to list and B) I don’t want a call from Spielberg’s lawyers for going against his wishes not to reveal anything more than already shown in the trailers, but rest assured: the sheer number of references to other movies, games and TV shows is astounding and unparalleled.
Putting them in the film and having them work are two very different things entirely though and for the most part, Ready Player One flourishes in the use of the licenses. The two biggest ones used in the marketing are pivotal to the story too – Back To The Future’s four-wheeled, flappy doored time machine DeLorean and the titular machine from 1999’s animated adventure The Iron Giant both feature heavily and more importantly impact on the story.
The same cannot be said for 90% of the other recognizable faces; they barely last a second on screen either in battle or a sweeping establishing shot in game lobbies. The best way to approach Ready Player One is to think of it as something akin to the best-selling Nintendo beat-em-up Super Smash Bros: the inclusion of established characters in both are merely aesthetic and in no way accurately represent how said character acts in their own movies or games. One of the biggest gripes I’ve seen regarding Ready Player One is how The Iron Giant is used as a weapon when he is famously known for being an anti-gun advocate. It’s a perfectly legitimate concern, but as I said, it hurts less if you don’t see him as The Iron Giant but instead simply as the unlockable skin that it is meant to be in the OASIS. After all, the Wii-Fit Trainer is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. but you never see them violently wreck the yoga room when you get the Crane pose wrong. Which is a shame, really.
The referential overload does get too much at times, however, and it seems like characters namedrop or mention things simply because Spielberg obtained the rights to do so. There were also occasions where I felt dumb for not knowing a character who showed up accompanied by a revelatory piece of music which suggested that I most certainly should know who it is. To understand or ‘get’ all references would require a knowledge of every piece of popular culture in existence, but nevertheless there are enough household names, faces, and wheels which span the last four decades to provide momentary injections of viewer recognition to keep the film charging forward through its 140-minute runtime.
It’s difficult to cover performances considering over half of the film takes place inside the CG-heavy OASIS, but if we’re talking about the effects, they are utterly sublime. The OASIS is an excellently realised utopia with impossibly vivid colours, gravity-defying nightclubs and unimaginably fast car races. These motor marathons reminded me of the carnage seen in the Burnout series, or better yet the outrageously underappreciated racer Split/Second, and are worth the ticket price alone. If the option for 3D is on the table too, take it. It’s not often I recommend adding another dimension (not to mention £3 to the admission fee) to a film, but Ready Player One’s wonderful world is certifiably enhanced by adding 3D to those rose-tinted, nostalgia spectacles.
Be warned too: Ready Player One fully earns its 12A rating. Bad language, violence, and even extended horror sequences feature heavily throughout, which makes for an uneven not-so-family-friendly experience. I’d also have liked it to have tackled the dangers of VR and gaming addiction a little more rather than the skimming over it gets, and the criminal overlooking of IOI’s real-world business practices is frustrating. At the same time, It’s genuinely disappointing when we get unplugged from the Virtual Reality to go back to dreary Columbus – and try as it might, the film doesn’t do enough to convince us to stay out of the OASIS.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Ready Player One by pointing out its shortcomings. It’s pure, flawed, blockbuster fun which will bring smiles to the faces of many with its unmatched pop culture infusion and ground-breaking effects, but don’t expect much in the way of memorable characters or an original plot. It’s relieving that for the first time in a long-time too that superheroes aren’t the focus of a major studio release – although they aren’t entirely absent from this.
Uh oh. Maybe I’ve said too much already.
Yep. My court date is next Friday.
Ready Player One is set for a UK wide release on 28th March 2018 and US release on 29th March.
Filled with references from decades of popular culture
A visual treat with incredible effects
Adrenaline pumping action sequences
Its homage to horror is smart and a joy to watch
Dull story when out of the OASIS
Minimal development of real world characters
Not all references work and a lot seem shoehorned in