Despite some nostalgic pandering and impressive visuals, “Ready Player One” lacks substance and purpose.
Teenager Wade Watts, like most people in the world of “Ready Player One,” spends most of his time in the Oasis, a virtual reality world created by the deceased James Halliday. Players stand to win a fortune and control of the Oasis if they can find three keys Halliday hid in the game world. When Wade starts solving the puzzle, he catches the attention of evil corporation Innovative Online Industries, IOI, that’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the prize and the power that comes with it. Some spoilers follow.
This movie stumbles a fine line between YA dystopia and kids’ entertainment. On the one hand, IOI runs so-called loyalty centers, where indebted people enter virtual slave labor enforced with real physical punishment. IOI’s CEO, Nolan Sorrento, and his enforcer discuss killing children to stop them from finding Halliday’s prize. On the other hand, players fight alongside Batman, Tracer from “Overwatch” and Ninja Turtles. Players seem unusually concerned with losing inventory and coin, despite real world concerns. Sorrento poses a plot to cover displays with the maximum amount of advertising possible without inducing seizures.
Halliday is a source of idol-worship, both by the film’s characters and the movie itself. This is mostly problematic. By Halliday’s design, much of the contest requires extensive knowledge of his life and interests in popular culture. In a world where the Oasis dominates society, merit is supplanted by trivial knowledge. What’s Halliday’s favorite map on “GoldenEye”? Have you seen “The Shining”? How many times have you seen “The Breakfast Club”? These are all essential questions for those hoping to escape poverty.
The references in this movie are often obtrusive. A character may stop what they’re doing long enough to say, “Dude, is that Batman?” The references don’t carry any specific themes, either. Warner Brothers likely filled their movie with anything they had the rights to or could get their hands on in the hopes of appealing to the widest audience possible. In one scene, an IOI representative tries desperately to convince the snobbish Wade Watts they’re a real fanboy while a think tank barks pop-culture knowledge in their ear. This is either the most or least self-aware content in the whole movie.
In science fiction, details often make or break a movie. The details of “Ready Player One” can make a man restive. For instance, Wade and others possess multi-directional treadmills of sorts so that they may move freely in game without real world obstruction. However, the film often portrays Oasis players running, visor equipped, through the real world. God help them if there’s a cliff.
That being said, there are plenty of details to be enjoyed. More expensive suits provide higher-quality experiences. Real purchases can be ordered within the Oasis for delivery. Our protagonists find themselves juggling the Oasis’ s contest and escaping IOI employees in the real world on more than one occasion.
The movie’s production value and nostalgic throwbacks might be worth your time. More than half of the movie takes place in the Oasis, which likely involved a hell of a lot of work getting it to look the way it did. Spielberg’s name is often synonymous with big budgets and good technical work. I just hope the director of “Jaws” and “Schindler’s List” has more to say next time.