Ready Player One has been a hot button topic on the internet for almost a year now. At some point, it became one of the battlegrounds that keep cropping up in pop culture, with one side calling it “Worse than Twilight,” and another calling it “Black Panther for Geeks,” and a whole bunch of folks stuck in the middle staring at both of those statements, absolutely dumbstruck that it’s come to this. So I understand there’s some controversy over the movie adaptation that comes out this week. I was a big fan of the book, but I also acknowledge that there’s some issues to it, especially with race and gender, that I didn’t see at first. The movie has less of those. It also has less of some of the things that made the book worth your time. So is the movie worth plopping down your hard earned cash? Let’s dive in and find out together.
For the quickest, spoiler-free synopsis I can give you, Ready Player One follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a socially awkward kid living in the Stacks, a dystopian future slum made from stacking endless mobile homes on top of each other. The world of the future sucks, and everyone on the planet deals with it by escaping to the Oasis, a virtual world where you can be anyone and do anything. The founder of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), hid a giant easter egg hunt within the virtual world, and anyone who can solve his puzzles and win three keys will get full control over the Oasis, becoming wealthy and powerful beyond their wildest dreams. Opposing young, scrappy kids like Wade in trying to solve the puzzles first is I0I, a super evil mega corporation that wants to fill the Oasis with ads, lead by Sorrento (Ben Mendelshon).
The book was a deep, deep dive into nerd culture, and the puzzles were actual brain teasers that involved remembering specific details of 80s pop culture. The puzzles in the film are different – Spielberg has chosen to change the overall arc of the film to one about Halliday, from beyond the grave, teaching Wade how to live in a world that’s more than just the Oasis. This means that the puzzles have been changed from brain teasers to tests about Halliday’s personal life, and the mistakes he made before his death. Narratively, it’s a really interesting concept. The problem with it is that it streamlines the process too much. Puzzles that may have been satisfying have been replaced with logical leaps that are difficult to follow if you’re not the characters in the movie.
There’s also the issue of the main cast. The weight of the heavy acting lifting in this film is done by Halliday and Mendelshon, who are both utterly fantastic in their roles. The kids who are our main characters are all kind of dull and lifeless in the real world. In the Oasis, the VFX team has actually gone in and made them all more interesting actors, which is a technical feat that, sadly, no one will ever celebrate.
All of this could lead to a lifeless, listless movie…which is the really strange thing, because Ready Player One is anything but that. The film moves quickly, but never so fast that you’re lost, and the action sequences that lead to the first and third keys are absolutely jaw droppingly fantastic. If you were worried that the film’s climax wouldn’t be done justice, it absolutely is, in a way that left me wanting to stand up and cheer. And the race that begins the film is one of the absolute coolest things I’ve ever seen on a screen. I left the film with a big smile on my face, and despite my issues with it I would absolutely recommend it to anyone out there.
So where does that leave Ready Player One? Let’s call it “The Geek’s Fast and Furious.” Like the Fast and Furious movies, it isn’t deep, and the acting won’t win any Oscars. But it also has a ton of heart, incredible action, and most importantly, it’s a movie that knows what it’s about, and tells a consistent arc for its characters throughout. If you’re going to the theater expecting a 1:1 adaptation of the book, you’ll be disappointed. If you go expecting your life to be changed forever, you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to sit back and have a really good time at the movies, Ready Player One is absolutely worth your time.