Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Are You Ready Player One for Pop Culture the Movie?

Ready Player One is cotton candy, but it's really good cotton candy. Based on Ernest Cline's 2011 book of the same name, the latest film from director Steven Spielberg takes us to the near future where life in the real world pales in comparison to the virtual reality of the OASIS where some go to play, some go to hide, and nearly all go to in order to avoid real life. Think of the OASIS as a virtual smorgasbord mashup of MMOs like World of Warcraft on steroids, mixed with every nostalgic 80s icon which can fit on a screen (and the film could get the rights for).

Following the death of the OASIS' creator, there has been competition to decipher the clues left behind which promise the winner full control over the world's most profitable enterprise. Our protagonist is lovable outsider Wade (Tye Sheridan) who goes by the handle Parzival. Not part of any clan, Parzival works with his best-friend Aech (Lena Waithe) to solve the riddles before the IOI corporation, led by the evil Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), can gain control of the OASIS.

Along the way Parzival will meet the alluring Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and discover some actions in VR can have deadly repercussions in the real world. Less important until later in the film are other friends Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki) who also join in the hunt and fight against IOI. Parzival is a likable enough lead while Art3mis is a bit trickier character who is has more real-world experience with IOI, and is an equally-skilled player, but lacks Wade's obsessive knowledge of the OASIS' creator which turns out to be the most valuable commodity in the OASIS. While her character likely holds greater depth, her development is limited both by the story's stronger focus on Parzival and the film's running time.

Spielberg's film is a nostalgia-fueled thrill ride that takes aspects movies often struggle with (such as video game concepts and virtual reality) and creates a surprisingly coherent and enjoyable film. Yes, the characters are all pretty damn thin, but the film is undeniably fun. I was reminded of several movies while watching Ready Player One including Wreck-It Ralph and Tron (both who see a character step out of their world and into another where they are forced to play a game by someone else's rules). Given the love story, and video game aspects, there are also more than a few comparisons to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

As with Wreck-It-Ralph, the film is filled with references, characters, and settings from everything from the Atari 2600 to Voltron. Some pop culture figures receive minor cameos (such as Overwatch's Tracer) while other characters and objects get far more screentime (like the Iron Giant, one specific Stanley Kubrick film, and Parzival's DeLorean). Ready Player One may not be a deep movie, but there's plenty of fun to be had in the unapologetically nostalgic buffet laid out before the audience. While I don't know if the movie will be as enjoyable a second time, I do want to see it again to look for the various references and cameos I missed hidden like Easter eggs all around the crazy fun of Parzival's quest.

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