Columbus, Ohio, 2045, and not one vintage Ohio State University sweatshirt in sight --- seriously? It's one minor flaw in an otherwise spectacular special-effects driven achievement from legendary director Steven Spielberg. "Ready Player One", based on the book by Ernest Cline, features a screenplay by Cline and Zak Penn ("X-Men 2", 2003, "The Avengers", 2012), and stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, the teenage Gunter obsessed with winning control of the OASIS.
The year 2045 is pretty grim. Wade lives with his Aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) in the "stacks" --- a mobile home park where the trailers are literally stacked on top of one another. To escape their dreary, depressing existence, people spend most of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality where you can be anyone or anything you desire. Wade's avatar, Parzival, is best friends with Aech (Lena Waithe), another male avatar, but with a massive, hulking body. In real life, Aech is a woman.
These two are steeped in a race to win the first of three keys in "Anorak's Quest", a game devised by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the co-creator of the OASIS. Halliday has passed away, but he left behind clues, and Wade/Parzival is hell-bent on figuring out what comes next. Parzival and Aech team up with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a female player well-known within the "Anorak's Quest" competition, and two brothers, Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao).
But the Gunters (egg hunters) aren't the only players searching for the egg. Innovative Online Industries (IOI), led by the nefarious CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is also in on the game. Sorrento's motives are quite opposite those of Wade's, so this particular Easter egg hunt has life-or-death consequences. "Ready Player One" culminates in a massive showdown between the operatives of IOI and the avatars who are fighting to ensure the OASIS remains free.
Spielberg has stated that "Ready Player One" is "the most difficult movie I've done since 'Saving Private Ryan'". It's certainly a huge undertaking with incredible special effects and production designs by Adam Stockhausen ("The Grand Budapest Hotel", 2014) and breathtaking cinematography by Spielberg's longtime collaborator, Janusz Kaminski (Oscar winner for "Schindler's List", 1993, "Saving Private Ryan", 1998). Spielberg's other constant filmmaking companion, composer John Williams, worked instead on "The Post", so the unique soundtrack for "Ready Player One" was created by Alan Silvestri ("Polar Express", 2004, "Forrest Gump", 1994).
Sheridan and Cooke are a good match. Their avatars, Parzival and Art3mis, are distinctly different and much sexier than their real-life personas of Wade and Samantha. But they connect well, eliciting the right amount of chemistry. Then when teamed with Waithe --- game over --- they are terrific --- she's terrific. Waithe is receiving a lot of well-deserved hype for this role --- congrats to her.
The only disappointing factor for me was the casting of Mendelsohn. I found him immediately and totally distracting. His buffoonish characterization of Sorrento is irritating and not the least bit entertaining. And, unfortunately, the same can be said of Hannah John-Kamen's portrayal of femme fatale F'Nale Zandor. Both of these performances are beneath the direction of Spielberg.
"Ready Player One" offers a great deal to moviegoers of all ages. Because of Halliday's fixation on pop cultures, past and present, there is much to love about this movie. Fans of "The Shining" will get a kick out of the scenes depicting references to that film, and the popular songs from days gone by interspersed into the soundtrack will bring back a lot of memories for most. It's a tremendous feat by Spielberg, et al --- don't miss it!
Opinion: See It Now!
Movie buffs will recall that James Cameron's "Avatar" was named Best Picture in 2009. What may not be as widely known is that Cameron has four more Avatar films in the works between 2020 and 2025. But you don't have to wait that long to get your avatar fix because Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One" is a true thrill ride.
Set in Columbus, Ohio in 2045, "Ready Player One" focuses on the virtual reality world of a place called the Oasis. Denizens of Earth can don headsets and be transported to the Oasis, where they can be anyone and do anything they desire. Based on Ernest Cline's novel, "Ready Player One" is superbly imaginative, with enough references to iconic films of the past to satisfy the most demanding of cinematic historians.
"The Shining" and "The Iron Giant" are featured in special elongated sequences, while beloved figures like Superman, Batman, King Kong and Chucky --- okay, maybe not that guy --- receive brief recognition. From the stacked mobile homes we see in the beginning of the film, to some fabulous special effects, "Ready Player One" is signature Spielberg. His attention to detail is legendary, exemplified when heroine Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) manages to escape from the pod where she is held prisoner.
Tye Sheridan plays the young protagonist Parzival/Wade. The highly regarded actor became a household name after his performance in "Mud" (2012) opposite Matthew McConaughey. In "Ready Player One" he is convincing, not overacting in any of his scenes. The same can be said of Ms. Cooke, best known for "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015). In "Ready Player One", her character sports a large birthmark on the right side of her face, but that doesn't deter Wade from falling for her --- a nice lesson for young people today.
Veteran character actor Ben Mendelsohn is Nolan Sorrento, the story's nemesis. While he's not as miscast as Jeanne writes, he's not evil enough, either. The cast member who stands out whenever he's on screen is Mark Rylance as the Oasis co-creator James Halliday. Along with his avatar alter ego Anorak, Rylance is perfect as the eccentric, and brilliant, inventor who devises a contest where the winner gains control of the OasiS, and all it has to offer.
I believe "Ready Player One" is much more entertaining than "Avatar". My only complaint is the early car rally scene --- a futuristic demolition derby --- that runs too long. Like so many blockbusters, "Ready Player One" should be seen on a big screen, IMAX if possible.
Opinion: See It Now!