Ready Player One is a film you’ll either love or loathe
From the opening shots of the futuristic slums of Columbus, Ohio and Van Halen’s “Jump” blaring, I was already a bit hesitant. As we’ve seen in entertainment, a huge resurgence of 1980s nostalgia has permeated films and television, ranging from the wildly popular Stranger Things to a remake of Ghostbusters, it seems people have found a soft spot for the campy humor but undeniably fun culture of nearly 40 years ago.
Ready Player One feels like a culmination of this nostalgia. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in a world where people escape their day-to-day life by entering a hyper-realistic video game universe known as the OASIS. The movie follows Watts and company as they venture through this fantasy world in search of an easter egg hidden by the deceased creator Halliday (Mark Rylance). The nearly two and a half hour runtime is full of pop culture references, ranging from The Shining to Iron Giant, which serve as moments that fans might appreciate.
However, the reliance on audiences having an immediate connection to these references is exploited time and time again. This leaves viewers who have no connection to or knowledge of these references constantly feeling left out. That isn’t to say they’d be completely lost or have nothing to look at, since the movie does look lively. The gummy and sleek textures of the OASIS certainly impress. The action sequences are thrilling and engaging.
Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t have much to offer outside of these memorable moments. A half-baked storyline involving an evil corporation where the CEO resembles a comic book villain (played excellently by Ben Mendelsohn) and a shoehorned romance make for a fairly uninteresting plot. The constant gatekeeping that comes from characters (paralleling the attitude of many gamers) who label themselves as ‘true fans’ might make some eyes roll. The other side of this argument is that RPO is essentially a love letter to 1980s pop culture including its criticisms.
Though the cheesiness is palpable through most of the movie, you can’t ignore its charm. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In closing, this is a movie that you’re either going to fall in love with or one where you can’t wait for it to end. Even if the flashy animations were exhilarating and the references covered a vast array of media (the Shining being the movie’s biggest highlight), there wasn’t much here to keep me glued to the screen.