Pop culture references: The Movie!
To be fair, “Ready Player One” is the type of movie I always imagined that could serve as a crossover between every type of franchise imaginable, including television, movies, video games, books, and so much more. The fact that Steven Spielberg is at the helm for it and he adds his charming whimsical style to everything does make most of this film a delight to sit through, if only to see Spielberg turn a below-average book into an enjoyable movie.
Though to be more specific, Spielberg gives us three amazing sequences and an otherwise forgettable average film. These three scenes are all worth the price of admission, enjoyable in their own rights while being more than just a field of references and Easter eggs. Each of them reminds us why we loved things like King Kong, “Back to the Future” and “The Shining” in the first place, all while this movie creates its own identity and plays with these unique situations.
Set in the year 2045, most of the world is made up of slums and inescapable gloom. But then again, most people don’t live in the real world anymore – they live in a virtual world where you can do anything or be anything, known as the OASIS. Outside of eating, sleeping and having to go to the bathroom, everyone spends all their time in this world, created by a mix of an 80s nerd and Steve Jobs, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). But when Halliday passes away, he sends out a message saying that he put in one final Easter egg that, when found by bringing all three keys to his in-game character, would give this person total control over the OASIS and all of his shares and stocks in his company, which effectively means control of the world.
The film follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a teenager that worships Halliday and his creation, who tries everything to find all three keys and the Easter egg. But as he slowly gets closer to the truth, the corporation known as IOI threatens him and his friend so they can be the first to obtain ultimate power and control.
The strength of “Ready Player One” lies in its ability to connect with so many different people and what they care about. No matter what you liked growing up, there will be at least one moment anywhere in the movie that you’ll be able to point to and smile because of a pop culture reference about something you love. Not just a reference you get or understand, but something you truly care about. Spielberg takes the time and effort to make each moment like that really sink in and let you soak in all of its glory. Whether that’s watching King Kong and the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” tear up race cars, seeing people interact with many of the scenes from “The Shining” in different ways, or a plethora of video game characters fighting to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” there will be something for everybody.
Though, if I’m being perfectly honest, that moment for me came near the end of the film when the villain cheats in the video game world and pilots a giant robot that may or may not resemble one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. It gets even sweeter when said giant robot starts beating the stuffing out of the Iron Giant and a Gundam. Let’s just say I had a perpetual smile on my face during that entire final battle.
The film never takes itself too seriously, which helps when it transitions back into the real world to keep the same care-free, fun-loving tone throughout the film. This is helped with a scary-looking bounty hunter, voiced by T.J. Miller from “Silicon Valley” and “Deadpool,” that calls himself i-Rock. He is quick to poke fun at the video game logic while working well off the villain (Ben Mendelsohn) and his lack of pop culture knowledge.
Outside of that and the three exciting and inventive sequences throughout the film, there isn’t a whole lot going for “Ready Player One.” The rest of the film is a serviceable popcorn flick that follows the traditional Spielberg-style, though without really diving into the characters or the quotable lines. Anytime they go back to the real world, it only makes me wish they spent more time in the virtual one just to see what they’ll do next. This makes some parts of the film drag, but never to the point that it feels boring.
Overall though, “Ready Player One” is Steven Spielberg’s best film since “Catch Me If You Can,” if only because of his love and passion for all things nerdy and geeky and how that translates on screen. Not only does this film look amazing, but it is fun to see so many different characters from all sorts of franchises interacting with one another. While not always entertaining, it is never bad or disappointing. This is a worthwhile popcorn flick and one that anyone born after 1975 will appreciate one way or another.
Final Grade: B