If “Ladybird” is called Greta Gerwig’s love letter to Sacramento, then “Ready Player One” could be Steven Spielberg’s love letter to geek and pop culture.
Or, more specifically, a journey back to the ‘90s at a speed of 1.21 gigawatts in an old DeLorean (the lead character’s wheels inside the game).
That’s a pretty “excellent adventure” by my standards.
Just as the main character, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), must find the Easter eggs within recently deceased gaming genius James Halliday’s virtual reality game Oasis, the viewer is challenged to see how many nods to games, film and TV shows he/she can catch.
(Honestly, I lost track after the first few minutes, but I had already found over 10 by then. Yes, each time there was a new one, a cheesy smile found its way onto my face.)
Everything, from the music to the smallest prop, is an Easter egg.
The plot revolves around the idea of Easter eggs, secret rewards or references placed by a game’s creator.
But aside from the enjoyable seconds of screen time for famous tidbits of nerd culture, the film isn’t perfect.
Yes, clichés are as abundant as references; lines are stale and stereotypical (especially during the romantic and serious scenes); the acting is, at times, unbearable to watch; the characters are cookie-cutter versions of insert-any-teen-movie-stereotype-here.
On the other hand, nothing is too complicated, so the movie is easy to watch.
The plot is simple – audiences will have no problem comprehending what’s going on, even if the logic seems to be faulty on numerous occasions.
Post mortem, Halliday sends a video to all the players of the internationally successful VR game OASIS. In it he says he scattered three keys around the endless servers and that whoever finds them first will be the heir of his digital domain.
Understanding the clues and Easter eggs for the missions requires knowing the creator’s thought processes and life story, including, of course, all the movies, books and TV shows that inspired him along the way.
To assist honest and ambitious players, a virtual library of Halliday’s life is found within the game.
Watts, like many humans in this future, is a gamer with not much to live for in reality. He’s poor, orphaned and shares a shack with his aunt and her chauvinistic husband.
Most of his time is spent online with friends H (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Moriyama) and Sho (Philip Zhao), all whom he has never met in reality.
While he and his friends are trying to obtain the first key in a mix between racing and avoiding being killed by King Kong, he meets Artemis (Olivia Cooke), an ambitious girl who is set on locating the three keys before Innovative Online Industries (IOI), headed by the unbelievably unlikeable Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) nabs them first.
Sorrento and his team of IOI goons work ’round the digital clock trying to obtain the three keys and gain control over the most powerful company in the world.
It’s classic storyline: a group of rebellious youth grapple with a corporate megalomaniac with aims to destroy the free (gaming) world, humanity’s only light in an ever-expanding darkness.
To (Easter) egg on the cheesiness, Watts falls in love with Artemis, first with her avatar in the digital world and later in reality.
That means awkward scenes, obvious flirtations and boring teenage romances, but it becomes more bearable after the teens find the first key.
Furthermore, there are many plot holes and situations that don’t make logical sense. And the ending is abrupt and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film but somehow is more clichéd than the 135 minutes of screentime that came before.
But even when the lines are eye-roll-inducing, the CGI is fantastic. The digital paradise of Oasis is breathtakingly realistic, as are the avatars of the main characters.
Producer Spielberg always creates stunningly visual films, and “Ready Player One” is no exception.
And that’s not saying that the film provides only good special effects and 3D animation.
One of the most fan-pleasing scenes is inside of a replica of the hotel from “The Shining,” complete with all the creepiness (and blood gushing out of elevators) of the original film.
This movie is not a great film, but it is amusing. The cheesiness certainly doesn’t spell “game over” for it.
It may not go down in history in the same category as the amazing movies, series or books it references, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it.