“Ready Player One” was fun. It wasn’t life-changing, and I didn’t come out of the theater feeling different, but it was fun. The film mercifully pulled back from the book’s “ode to the middle-aged poindexter” info-dumping to deliver a story which avoids alienating the average moviegoer while leaving in a few references that the target audience of the book may be pleasantly surprised to unearth.
The effects shown in the first scene may have been my favorite part of the whole movie. It immediately set up the whimsical world of the OASIS virtual reality platform as full of potential in the most dazzling way possible. This scene is what people envision when they hear about advancements in virtual reality.
The film succeeded in capturing the fun in the absurdity of video games. It did this best during the race toward the beginning where we first begin to get to know our characters through their play styles. Throughout the race, the stakes get more and more ridiculous until they reach an insurmountable apex, and in the process the challenges we seek when we play games are revealed.
Less fun is the “nerd culture” things the characters do, like egg hunters or “gunters” testing each other on their knowledge of the creator of the OASIS before deeming them worth each other’s time. However, it’s definitely in the spirit of the book, and it does reflect a thing that happens in real life.
This is where the praise ends. The animation and effects in “Ready Player One” were undoubtedly spectacular, but I hated looking at main character Wade Watts’ (Tye Sheridan) avatar, Parzival. His white hair made him look like a less interesting version of Raiden from “Metal Gear Solid,” and his huge, wet eyes on an otherwise fairly normal face were unsettling.
That being said, after a certain point scenes in the real world started to seem sillier than what went on in the OASIS. Sure, the characters might have been in bodily danger, but I didn’t really care about them and had a mecha battle to watch. The added drama of a cheap version of “Altered Carbon’s” Tamara Taylor and her villain squad didn’t worry me.
There was also a huge romantic jump that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Wade and Samantha (Olivia Cooke), or “Art3mis” in the OASIS, go from having a casual flirtation at best to being deeply in love in the blink of an eye. I can’t help but think I must have missed something, but I watched the whole movie and their romance hit me like a most unwelcome brick to the face. There was a speech. It was one of the movie’s rougher moments.
The formation of this romance wasn’t readily obvious, though much of the dialogue was. The characters pointed out things so glaringly obvious that it was a little insulting to hear. Also present was a heavy handed call to action to unplug and value your real life. While their hearts were in the right place, it’s hard to take seriously because the film spends so little time in the real world and the characters’ lives suck until they aren’t dirt poor anymore. Their world has gone into the trash and only Samantha is particularly inclined to fix it. Also, the OASIS has mecha fights. Come on.
The movie often refers to Japanese media that has become classical American deep nerd property, like “Akira” and “Gundam”. It’s easy to miss if you’re not thinking about it, but once you know other things become noticeable. The overly large eyes of Art3mis and Parzival are reminiscent of eyes in Japanese animation, for instance. It’s one of the weirder ways a cyberpunk movie has expressed the genre and the American nerd’s fixation with Asia.
As someone who read the book long ago, I had abysmal expectations for “Ready Player One." I’m pleased to say that though the nerd explanations were grating at times they didn’t manage to take over, and I was treated to an action-packed romp where I only felt a little silly for all of the references I got. It's not life-changing, but incredibly fun in spite of some cringe-worthy moments.
Your grandma won’t like this one, but your cool uncle who works at Nintendo might. And, unless you’re from a family of video game aficionados, your child sibling is going enjoy “Sherlock Gnomes” way more than this.