Remember the 1980s? Steven Spielberg does. In fact, you could even argue Spielberg created the ’80s.
At first glance, Spielberg’s new movie “Ready Player One” isn’t much more than an excuse to wallow in the pop culture of the decade of excess. But, once this sucker gets rolling, it becomes a visual thrill ride that is simultaneously a celebration and condemnation of the entertainment industrial complex.
Based on the best-selling novel by Ernest Cline (who also helped write the screenplay with Zak Penn), “Ready Player One” is set in the year 2045, where the real world is a place of poverty and apathy.
This is why everyone escapes to the OASIS, a virtual reality universe that is bound only by the limits of human imagination. The OASIS is the brainchild of oddball genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who envisioned this open-source playground to be a pure meritocracy where anyone from anywhere can log on and be anything they wish.
When Halliday dies, he devises a contest where anyone who can discover and complete three challenges within the OASIS will be given complete ownership of the virtual world.
Our hero is Wade (Tye Sheridan), a Halliday-obsessed teenager who, in the OASIS, goes by the name Parzival. He is joined by his online friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) in a quest to best Halliday’s challenges before evil corporate interests, led primarily by IOI president Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), get to the prize and attempt to monetize the holy heck out of the OASIS.
Since Halliday harbored a deep love for the movies, music, and video games of his youth, the OASIS has become a digital love letter to the ’80s and that love has passed on to his devotees.
It would be easy to accuse “Ready Player One” of being nothing more than nostalgia porn and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker that would probably be the case.
Spielberg actually is pretty sly as he is actively subverting all he is celebrating (which is probably why none of his films make an appearance here) as the ultimate argument made by this movie is while pop culture is a lot of fun, it is still a distraction from the lives we are living.
And even though this movie would be entertaining and engaging without all of the ’80s window dressing, I do have to admit this movie nerd’s heart went pitter-patter recognizing some old favorites, like when the multi-blade boomerang from the cheesy sci-fi/fantasy “Krull” shows up as a weapon in an OASIS battle.
In many ways, “Ready Player One” is about how a creation can become more beloved and revered than its creator ever intended. This is pretty much been Spielberg’s experience for the past 40 years. Now he gets to pay back his fellow creators while giving the rest of us a thrilling roller coaster of a trip down memory lane.
“Ready Player One” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity, and language.