Review: ‘Ready Player One’ (80s Nostalgia Overdrive)

“What’s in there?” “Only what you take with you.”

In the year is 2045, the greatest economic resource is an online virtual world called the Oasis, where everyone wants to be and can be whatever they want. Its creator, Halliday (Mark Rylance), died five years earlier, leaving a quest for three keys to an Easter egg prize: executive control of the Oasis itself. With only a handful of stragglers and the IOI corporation still participating in the daily race through New York City to win the first key, Parzival (Tye Sheridan) at last figures out how to beat the unbeatable race with the help of Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). As the first of many players start filling up the long-empty leaderboard, corporate bad guy Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) turns his attention to his new opponent… in both the digital world and the real.

Since being announced with Steven Spielberg directing, Ready Player One has been the subject of both online speculation as well polarization, with people both loving or outright hating the book. While too engrossed in 1980s pop-culture nostalgia to be properly called Young Adult fair, it isn’t too difficult to imagine a future like this. The biggest complaints are where the book and the film deviate, reportedly padding the shooting script with pop references to fill the screen and keep the story points accessible (read: dumbed down). With a clear head and not having read the book, how does Ready Player One measure up?

When it comes to the (Nineteen) Eighties, it’s impossible not to include Steven Spielberg in the short list of directors that infected our collective movie consciousness at the time, from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Indiana Jones, but Ready Player One covers far more, from Star Trek to Gundam and even horror icons like Jason and Chucky. It’s a mish-mash of pop glee exploding across a 3D movie screen like a re-imagined Tron without trademarks or copyrights. Who needs a light cycle when you can have Kaneda’s bike from Akira? If you can squint past the dazzle, there’s a solid if predictable story beneath with the right feels and morals. More high nostalgia than high art, it is what it wants to be: an on-screen feel-good easily digestible celebration of beloved fandoms.

Aside from reportedly huge departures from the best-selling book, it may be too much reference, or perhaps it was intended for people to watch it over and over to catch every little nuance, costume piece, and money-shot callback. Even if you don’t know what everything is, it’s pretty to look at but doesn’t try to rise above a video game level of realism; don’t expect cutting-edge imagery while the story is reminding everyone they’re in the game — yeah, there’s a plot point hidden in that. The rest is homage to some a few interesting movie choices, including a wonderful re-imaginging of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and how that could go much more wrong than ol’ Jack ever wished for.

As a late-March release reaching for a few bucks between Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, this is a good excuse to waste a few hours on a weekend. If you remember when Spielberg announced his movies were skewing more toward something for families and away from thrillers like “Duel,” this is like that; on the heels Lincoln and The Post, maybe this was an apology for The BFG… or perhaps more of the same. Your mileage may vary.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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