Based on Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, READY PLAYER ONE takes place in a dismal 2045, where most people live in utter squalor. As technology is booming, they choose to spend most of their time online in a virtual universe called the Oasis. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in the “Stacks” of Columbus, Ohio — a tower of mobile homes held on spit and prayer (well, mostly scaffolding but you know what I mean) — and spends every spare moment logged in. Because in Oasis he is a cool, slim superhero with an impressive mane of white-blueish hair and big, anime eyes of a Final Fantasy protagonist. He can change his looks and clothes in a second. He can play with ingenious accessories and weapons. It’s great fun but there is more.
For the past five years, Wade and millions of other dedicated gamers have been hunting obsessively for an elusive Easter egg left hidden in the game’s code by its late creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). To find the egg, gamers must find three keys and pass through three gates, where their skills will be tested. The winner will receive the entirety of Halliday’s trillion-dollar fortune, including his controlling share in the Oasis’ parent company.
My first warning: nostalgic 80s fans might want to watch this movie several times and stop it here and there in order to get these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references; others might find it a strange, even kitchy mix of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Star Wars, Stanley Kubrick’s Shine, Zombie Apocalypse, Final Fantasy, Battle Royal, Godzilla, King-Kong, Christine, Jurassic Park and maybe even Tolkien. And much, much more. In fact it is a simple story about love, friendship and a deadly fight between a corporate Goliath (enter one big, ugly boss dressed up in virtual world as a Superman on steroids who thinks only about money) and a David (a young but experienced player called Percival who would feel at home in any part of Final Fantasy and in Indiana Jones as well). A simple story but also one dressed up like an baroque aristocrat in digital finery.
The virtual space was one big asset of this one, sleek and stylized to a fault, a world within a world, full of amazing details, certainly awe-inspiring but never exactly life-like. Well, who needs life, taking into account the fact the reality, as portrayed in the movie, sucked to hell. The elaborate escapist digital world where your own imagination is your only limit was more than understandable. Still, overall, it was a rather hollow kind of fun even though I really loved more than one sequence, like the one which owes a debt to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. And then there was the Zenneckis Rubik’s cube which could turn back time (yes, Spielberg meant the director of the Back to the Future movies). And then was a very funny and very icky Alien reference.
Not bad for over two hours of mindless fun but still the movie left some bad taste in my mouth. I wonder why. Perhaps I like my characters better fleshed out. Perhaps I am not exactly young anymore…