Marvel has been taking movies in a video game Easter Egg “nothing but the fun parts” direction for the past decade.
But leave it to the Old Master, Mr. Spielberg, to beat them to the punch and make a movie that’s ALL Easter Eggs, an endless parade of “cool parts” and eye candy that will require repeated viewings to take it all in.
Pay no mind to the assorted lousy TV commercials and trailers for “Ready Player One.” They don’t do it justice. It is jam packed with inside jokes, self-referential sight gags, movie, video game and pop culture history and trivia. All that time you spent in front of the screen, memorizing “The Breakfast Club” or “The Shining,” mastering every generation of video game from Atari to the current state of the art? Here’s a movie that reassures the GameGirls and Gameboys that it wasn’t time wasted.
Conversely, pay no heed to the fanboy nerdgasms that arrive, like a tidal wave, with this film, suggesting a Wakanda-sized cultural and box office tidal wave. The story, based on Ernest Cline’s novel, is simpleton simple. The acting is mostly done by digital avatars which left me cold.
And the dialogue? “Welcome to the Rebellion!” Too often, it’s straight out of every GD YA Sci-Fi P.O.Piffle that’s been trotted out to a Cambridge Analytica’d audience, market researched down to the atom.
My advice? Just go with it. But maybe after the buzz has worn off consider just how low the bar has been dropped on these Bollywood-length mass market confections, movies that go on and on because they have to give EVERYbody everyTHING that they want. And lots of it.
An opening suffering from exposition-overload introduces Wade Watt (Tye Sheridan), teen tyro of 2045’s mass virtual reality gameworld “The Oasis.” He’s not old enough to remember when America and the world “stopped trying to fix problems.” We’ve all just plugged-in and accepted our impoverished vertical trailer park (“The Stacks”) lot. All anybody needs money for is the latest game gear. And maybe food. Much of that cash is crypto-currency earned playing the multiverse of games woven into “The Oasis.” Get in debt? “Loyalty Center” workhouses allow the slaves to work off the money you owe.
Oasis was designed by the late game guru Halliday, played by Oscar winner (“The Bridge of Spies”) Mark Rylance in an American accent, curly mop of hair and socially awkward nerd-hero Wozniak mode that is within his vast acting range, but still…odd.
Upon Halliday’s death, he planted Easter Eggs (secret clues/prizes) within The Oasis. Find the “three keys” and unlock that one-last egg and you get to take over the game universe that Ate Planet Earth, or at least every spare second of every sentient person’s day. That’s worth so much money that a rival company (EveryVillain Ben Mendelsohn of “Rogue One” runs it) is devoting legions of techs, O-ologists (Oasis experts), “gunters” (egg hunters) professional gamers and Halliday Historians to cracking the puzzle, finding the keys and taking over The Oasis for themselves.
That would be a bad thing, like the loss of Net Neutrality, or trusting all your private data to Google and/or Facebook.
Wade, in the guise of his prettyboy punk avatar, Parzival ( named for Percival, the Arthurian knight who finds the Holy Grail all by his lonesome) is a loner who only accepts help from “H,” a hulking warrior/tech whiz he only knows in the game.
Wade may have “big plans in the real world” with what to do with the endless cash that will come to him if and when he wins. But the real world is just a place to plug in — in his case, a junkyard van just down “The Stacks” from the creaking double-wide his Aunt (Susan Lynch) and her abusive game/addict boyfriend (Ralph Ineson) and he call home.
That sexy, stand-offish avatar that he’s competing with? That’s Art3mis. She’s played by Olivia Cooke, when they finally meet in the flesh.
The “games” within the Oasis, places where the eggs hide, are first-person shooter epics, casinos, “Death Race” car chase games and the like. So basically this is a PG-13 “Wreck-It-Ralph.” No “Candy Crush” here.
You race in Doc Brown’s DeLorean against players driving the Adam West Batmobile and motorcycles from “Tron” and other pop culture touchstones while a T-Rex and King Kong try to stop you.
Spielberg’s greatest gift to this era and this sort of film might be the visual coherence he brings to these digital brawls, chases and cliffhangers. He does what Michael Bay and whoever takes on this or that “Pacific Rim” or Marvel mayhem hasn’t. He picks camera angles, depths of field and framing that makes the conflicts make sense to the naked eye, no “Transformers/Avengers” blur here.
The actors aren’t quite an afterthought, but compare Cooke’s turn in anything else she’s done — “Thoroughbreds” or even “Ouija” — with this Fury in Fishnets. She’s plucky but in the most generic YAs save-the-world way.
Sheridan (“Mud”) barely registers, and their “chemistry” is strictly of the adolescent game-nerd cliche variety, faintly sexist to boot.
Of the avatars, the funniest impression is made by T.J. Miller voicing the villain’s henchman I-R0k, a hulking Viking god-beast with nothing but nerdy sarcasm for his ostensible “boss” (Mendelsohn) .
“You never lick. You bite…straight to the creamy chocolate center of the Tootsie Pop. ‘Member those TV commercials with the owl?”
Miller is the alter ego for the audience for this movie. Why would a character from 27 years in the future remember a TV commercial from about 1980? For the same reason “Guardians of the Galaxy” classic rock rules this world (Joan Jett, Bruce, Hall & Oates and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) — pandering to your demo.
I didn’t dislike “Player One,” even if I rolled my eyes at the low-hanging fruit one-liners and cloying characters, the on-the-nose soundtrack tunes (Van Halen?), the cringe-worthy avatars from your favorite horror movies, all introduced to the giggles and applause of an audience sure it’s in on the joke. Because the movie was concocted to elicit just that reaction.
A “Shining” detour dazzles in approach, technique and slavish attention to the film’s legend in film nerddom, but fizzles every time somebody opens his or her mouth.
Just go with it. And every time you go, you’ll see or hear more Easter Eggs. John Williams’ score from Spielberg’s flop “1941?” Check. A magic talisman “Zemeckis Cube” that allows you to go “Back in Time?” Ditto.
But do all those eggs, and a heaping helping of cheese, make an epic cinematic omelet? Nope.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action, a violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Credits:Directed by Steven Spielberg by, script by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on Cline’s novel. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:20