The idea of the new-age, quality Hollywood blockbuster has been pretty much absent in recent years. The times of “Jurassic Parks,” “Indiana Jones” and “Jaws” seem to be a thing of the past, and now the torch has been passed down to franchise films like the big-budget Marvel Cinematic Universe’s multiple installments. However, the landscape of Hollywood box-office earnings may soon change again with the very father of blockbuster, Steven Spielberg, making a return with his latest sci-fi epic, “Ready Player One.”
“Ready Player One,” penned by Zack Penn and Ernest Cline (also the author of the eponymous novel), is the classic underdog tale of plebeian orphan Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan. Wade lives with his aunt and her series of disappointing nincompoop boyfriends in an overpopulated area called “The Stacks,” a clump of trailers stacked on top of each other in the city of Columbus, Ohio in the year of 2045. However, in this drudgery-filled world, humans never leave their trailers and instead choose to escape into the virtual world of the OASIS. Here, Wade can use his alter ego/virtual identity of Parzival (named after Percival the Arthurian knight) and meet his orcish best friend, Aech, and newly found love interest in the pink-haired punk girl avatar Art3mis (real world name, Samantha Cook) played by Olivia Cooke.
OASIS is created by pop-culture fanatic James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who, after his death, announces a quest for all the players of OASIS. A quest in which after finding three keys, winners are led to the glorious reward of an Easter Egg. This quest directly creates a class of players called the “gunters” or “egg hunters.” However, things quickly go awry when Ben Mendelsohn’s Nolan Sorrento, the evil CEO of the competing video game conglomerate, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), makes it his goal to get the Easter Egg as well. He uses an army of players known as the Sixers (they are literally assigned numbers), a team of pop-culture scholars, and actual assassins/bombers in the real world to make sure that he is the one to get the egg, which would also grant him control over the OASIS.
However, the rather generic plot set in the two worlds of dazzling and crisp CGI and dystopian Columbus, Ohio essentially falls flat. The clichéd characters simply lack substance. Especially Wade, who is expected to inspire, lead and evoke genuine emotion but usually ends up doing none of these. Along with that, in spite of Ben Mendelsohn giving it his all, the antagonist, Nolan Sorrento, is just an amalgam of hackneyed movie villain tropes.
Additionally, the pop-culture references (which can collectively almost be considered the lead character of this movie) are genuinely overwhelming. The movie is packed with nostalgia, including homages to John Travolta’s “Stayin Alive” dance routine from “Saturday Night Fever”, Chucky, “The Iron Giant”, “Halo”, “Atari” games, Room No. 237 from “The Shining”, a standoffish quiz about John Hughes films, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The challenge in attaining the first key is a Mario Kart-esque race which involves dodging the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” and “King Kong” with participants driving the DeLorean from “Back to the Future” and Adam West’s Batmobile. These references serve as nothing more than just a chuckle or a quick ego-boost for media fanatics who get them all.
However, with Steven Spielberg at the helm, partnered with his longtime associate in cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski and with access to Warner Bros. money and properties, “Ready Player One” brings back the classic big-budget “Movie Magic” back to the mainstream. Spielberg’s back with all of his lens flare glory and he’s still one of the most stylish filmmakers in the business. As a master of visual storytelling, he delivers one of the best opening sequences in recent times with smooth camera movements that are very much reminiscent of his earlier work like “Munich” (2005). Spielberg pulls all the stops and makes “Ready Player One” worth watching based on the pure innovation of what one can do with a camera today.
“Ready Player One”, at the end of it all, is just a movie (stress on the word “movie” and not “film” by Spielberg himself) rather than a work of art that will make you ponder about humanity’s existence. It’s made to entertain audiences of all ages. It’s a source of pure, genial fun, and Spielberg presents this fun with the classy touch of style that only he possesses.