Ready Player One hits high score


Close your eyes and imagine this. You’re ten years old. You walk into the arcade down the street with your closest friends for a Saturday night you’ve been waiting for months. It’s your birthday, and your mom gave you ten dollars, all in quarters, to spend at the arcade with your friends, and she’s going to get you pizza later. As you walk in, Danger Zone is playing, and you find your favorite arcade cabinet is open. You slot in a quarter and a blank screen appears, only for text to pop up, saying “Ready Player One”.

This is the feeling that you get when you watch Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One, based on the novel by Ernest Cline. There’s a mix of excitement, happiness, energy, fun, and positivity bursting out of every corner of this film. It’s clear from the beginning that this was a project of love and passion from the source material, which makes the whole experience so much better.

The story follows a somewhat simple structure. In the future of 2045, there exists a game called the OASIS, a virtual universe for people to freely live out their lives. Suddenly, James Halladay, the creator of the OASIS, dies without an heir. As a fan of adventure and games, James has hidden three keys around the universe that will lead to the finder receiving total control of the OASIS and half a billion dollars in the real world. And thus, the hunt is on to find the treasure. To oversimplify it in terms of the seven stories (the theory in writing that every story ever told follows one of seven basic structures), this is a quest. It’s a hero overcoming obstacles in search of a goal. It’s everything around that concept that makes this movie truly shine.

The cover of the book the movie is based on

The story’s protagonist, Wade Watts, is a poor kid living with his aunt in the ghettos (known as the Stacks, as the homes are RVs stacked on top of each other) of Columbus who is just looking to the OASIS as a way to escape the harsh reality of his life. In the game, Wade goes by Parzival, named after the knight of the round table who found the Holy Grail, and hangs out with other players in hopes of making a better life for himself. Along with his friends Aech (pronounced H), Artemis, Sho, and Deito, Parzival finds a lead to the keys before anyone else and sets out for the prize. Once he finds the first key, Wade catches the attention of IOI, a company that has been trying for years to take over the OASIS through legal maneuvers and is now hiring thousands to find the prize. IOI will stop at nothing for total control over the OASIS in order to enact their nefarious plans for taking over the lives of every player in the game. With his friends at his side and IOI on his trail, Wade quests through many trials and tribulations in both the OASIS and the real world to find the keys to a better life.

Tye Sheridan, who portrays Wade, does an incredible job at relating to the audience and showing the same emotions the audience feels. When Wade is confident, so is the audience. When he’s scared, the audience is on the edge of their seats in fear. Sheridan showcases a lot of talent in this movie, and I can’t wait to see more from him. Olivia Cooke plays the love interest Artemis very well, making herself a counterpart to Wade in many ways that make them work well together. While Wade can be naïve and unsure of his abilities at times, Artemis is somewhat jaded (although she does still enjoy much of the OASIS) and is in control of the situation. The characters play off each other very well and raise the weaker scenes to great heights. On the other side of the spectrum, Parzival’s right hand man Aech, played by Lena Waithe, feels like the older brother you can always count on to help when you’re in trouble. He’s much better than Wade at the OASIS and is highly respected in the game’s community but does not lord it over Wade and only seeks to help him out.

The villain, Nolan Sorrento

For the evil side, there is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), CEO of IOI, to make you root for the good guys with fervor. Sorrento is a believably evil businessman who is trying to take over the OASIS for money and disregards the little people due to his obsession with dominating others. Mendelsohn gives a tangible feeling of anger towards Wade for messing with his plans, which makes Wade’s journey all the more endearing. His main henchman, F’Nale Zandor (played by Hannah John-Kamen), serves to execute IOI’s plans in the real world in order to clear the path to domination in the OASIS. She is threatening and brutal, but also willing to follow the orders of her superiors due to a sense of duty and leadership. The evil IOI feels like a corporation that would exist in real life, with shareholders and quarterly quotas to meet, but also just fictional enough to keep you invested. The bad guys get all the cool toys and have the odds stacked in their favor, making the hero’s journey all the more perilous and intense.

As side characters go, this film adds quite a few great choices. Deito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao) are good kids who want to do awesome things with their friends, like every kid wants, and they make great sacrifices in order for their friends to succeed. Their passion for being cool makes them heartwarming characters with great moments of both humor and seriousness. Simon Pegg serves as the Curator, the keeper of information in the OASIS that helps Wade and friends more than once along their journey. He has seen Wade come to him for information hundreds of times, so he is somewhat jaded towards him, but he still does his job because that’s what his programming tells him to do. One of the only problems I have with the film comes from T.J. Miller as i-R0k (I rock), a bounty hunter for IOI. While I understand the film’s desire to have someone known for comedy roles to make the contrast between the real and virtual world more apparent, T.J. Miller is just too well known for me to know him as much else than T.J. Miller. He gives an exceptional performance most of the time, but there are occasions when serious scenes are devalued by his humorous delivery.

An early scene in the movie that shows off some of the movie’s effects. Parzival, left, and Aech are talking in Aech’s workshop. Aech’s hollowed out torso and mechanical arm are just a few of the several great effects in the film.

The effects in the movie are top-notch. Everything in the game feels as though it would and should be there, with a matching graphical style for everything and everyone there. For those unaccustomed to video games, graphical style can play a major role in showing off the tone and atmosphere the developers are trying to create and gives each object and person a sense of unity with the world around them. It’s what separates games like Overwatch and Counterstrike apart at just a glance. Sure, they’re both first person shooters, but the graphical styles convey their many differences in tone and atmosphere without having to have the player read a single line of text. This being said, every character and place feels plausible within the game. When characters move, jump, fly, swing, or shoot, it feels both grounded and fantastical at the same time. The characters in the real world feel each movement, but they are also allowed to move in extraordinary manners by the rules of the game. There are even little touches that make the movie so much better for the observant viewer. The characters have a very slight difference in quality than the environments around them because they are made from templates of character models and are designed by the players, just like in real games. There are different levels of reality in the game and the characters can occasionally walk through walls of code to talk discreetly. Every character seen, even those in the background, is unique and would realistically be used by someone in game. When scenes take place within other movies, there seems to be almost no divide and there is great attention to the details within those movies. Of course, with this talk of other movies, we must bring up the elephant in the room: the references.

A poster for the movie inspired by the poster for Blade Runner

The OASIS is full of pop culture and nerd references (138 recognizable references in total). Upon seeing the trailer, I feared that the movie would heavily rely on these references to move itself along instead of being itself. The movie is happy to prove me wrong in nearly every scene. While the references are common, the story either uses them to show how much a character knows about the situation they’re in or serve as an extension of the character referencing them. If you understand a certain reference, you’ll be great. If you don’t, it won’t matter, as the story and characters are all self-contained, and the references that do have a bearing on the story are easily explained.

Ready Player One is an enjoyable ride from start to finish. With stellar action, witty characters, and a touching plot, the audience will always enjoy what comes next. Anyone with a beating pulse will walk out of the theatre feeling inspired and ready to take on the world. The viewer is reminded to be player one in their own life and to take action. This movie asks the viewer to take pride in the power of the internet and friendship. This movie wonders how good can overcome evil in the modern world and the future beyond. This movie asks if you are ready, player one.