By Ryan Keating-Lambert

★★★☆☆

Spielberg returns to sci-fi with a movie he was born to make. Ready Player One is a fun outing into nostalgia nirvana even if it fails to fully bring the source material’s characters right off the page.

Based on the best-selling book by Ernest Cline and set in the year 2045, Ready Player One sees the world plugged into a virtual reality universe called the OASIS. When the founder and head programmer dies, a competition is held to determine his successor, and young gamer Wade (Tye Sheridan) is the frontrunner. However, massive corporation IOI led by Operations manager and villain Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has other plans for the system.

So much of mainstream film and television is driven on on our nostalgia for pop culture these days. There was the phenomenal success of Stranger Things, the comeback of Stephen King horror IT, both of which play on that undeniable warm and fuzzy love for everything ’80s. Ready Player One takes that love and turns it up full throttle.

Wade, or ‘Parcival’ as his avatar is known, embarks upon an epic quest to find the three keys that will lead him to OASIS control and super stardom. Cue pop culture characters and references. There are obvious ones like the Iron Giant and an entire sequence devoted to The Shining as well as 100s of blink and you’ll miss it references. The pause button will certainly come in handy upon home release. Even the plot itself resembles childhood classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. As we’ve learnt though, geeks are hard to please. Just look at all of the recent reboot screw-ups that have failed dismally at the box office – get ready for backlash with this too. Not everyone is going to appreciate the old ghost woman from Room 237 and her sudden knife wielding ninja moves. Not everyone is going to appreciate their childhood being tampered with. I found all the easter eggs charming for the most part though. It’s a geek’s wet dream. The nerd inside of me even welled up at times.

And who better to tackle such subject matter than Spielberg – the man who has probably contributed more to film pop culture than any one else. The director creates a Minority Report like race for Wade and his band of gamer misfits to save the day and utilises outstanding visuals which luckily never reach the point of overwhelming like other modern blockbusters. There were a few scenes that even reminded me of the stunning visuals and composition of his moody sci-fi A.I. Artifical Intelligence which seems like a lifetime ago now. The first challenge was also a major highlight for me.

The calamitous and chaotic car race is a very well choreographed introduction to the awe-inspiring universe. The OASIS sequences are memorable because of Spielberg’s careful balance between digital paradise and the reality of the not-too-distant-future. I totally bought the drones and a couple of other things there, but still not sure about the ‘Jenga’ inspired trailer parks. Bit weird.

Character development however takes a definite back seat in this nerd race. There’s a serving of ‘kids on bikes’ relationships (with a van though in this case) that never quite reach the same level as those in classics like E.T. and The Goonies. The relationships here feel a little forced and out of the blue. The love story between Wade and Samantha aka ‘Art3mis’ is also unconvincing and sickly sweet. They utter a mere few lines to each other and then the ‘I love yous’ start cheesing up the place. I’ll say one thing though. It’s a challenge and a half for a Spielbergian teen romance to thrive in a world where modern film is trying to walk away from such cliches and stereotypes.

Ready Player One is formulaic and fairly predictable, but a lot of fun – a good film for this Easter weekend. There’s a fantastic final showdown that reminded me a bit of the recent The LEGO Batman Movie and its RIDICULOUSLY epic final battle absolutely packed to the brim with heroes and villains that you love.

Now is it a commentary on today? Do we need to spend more time offline? Is it a perspective on the rising millennial generation? Should we get our heads out of the clouds and ‘damn the man’? I don’t know. I do know that there is a VERY important question that one must ask themselves after all of this though, and that’s what your avatar would look like. Who would you be in the OASIS?

Ready Player One is now showing in select Czech cinemas.

Photo: Roger Ebert

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