A. Verdict: Worth watching in theaters ASAP (SPICY!)
B. Good Enough for Repeat Viewing?: Absolutely! Might even be necessary to appreciate all of the Easter Eggs scattered throughout the movie.
C. Details, Please:
Have any of you ever met Steven Spielberg? He is a very cool dude.
Once upon a time, he gave us the first modern summer blockbuster, Jaws. The movie industry was changed forever.
Other little flicks that you may have heard of including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Poltergeist (unofficially), the entire Indiana Jones franchise, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report, Lincoln and Always followed. He also produced dozens of others including Back To The Future, Gremlins, Goonies, American Tail, Innerspace, Money Pit, Land Before Time, Men in Black, Arachnophobia, and Transformers (his creative involvement obviously did not extend beyond the first one). On the TV front, we can thank him for Amazing Stories, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, Band of Brothers, the Pacific, Falling Skies and the United States of Tara. In short, he is not a Hollywood legend, he is THE Hollywood legend.
I am extremely happy to say that Ready Player One lives up to Spielberg's legacy. His best cinematic adventures from the 80's and 90's always invoked a sense of wonder. They always were exciting roller coaster rides with relatable characters that ultimately took you to a more joyful destination. His action scenes were always accessible with a layer of tangibility, UNLIKE the chaotic CGI overload that viewers are often thrown into these days without warning. For the record, I never understood why shaky cam and rapid cuts became standard elements of modern action choreography. Thankfully, Spielberg is here to the rescue with his glorious return to escapism.
I should caution fans upfront of Ernest Cline's popular novel that this movie is based on. The movie takes many liberties with the story despite sharing common themes. I have no stake here since I never read the book despite hearing great things about it from numerous people. I am judging this movie on its own. Cline even co-wrote the script and so, I would assume that he was okay with most of Spielberg's changes. However, as someone who can be a purist when it comes to Marvel/DC/Star Wars, I also sympathize with gripes from upset fans.
The dystopian story has plenty of heart right from the movie's first frame. Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) is an orphaned teenager from Columbus, Ohio living in a war-torn future in the year 2045 where most of the globe's impoverished population escape from their collective misery by plugging into a large virtual reality (VR) world called the Oasis, the parting gift of a deceased gaming industry revolutionary named James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). Halliday designed a contest within the Oasis where the winner of three challenges would inherit his wealth and control over his greatest invention. Watts has been determined to win for quite some time in the form of his gaming avatar, Parzival (also the name of King Arthur's knight who found the Holy Grail). His luck changes for the better when he meets a mysterious female competitor named Art3mis (actress Olivia Cooke). Forming an alliance with her and three of his existing online friends (including the mechanical genius barbarian, Aech), they become the fighting force called The High Five and might just have a shot at beating the game by closely studying Halliday's pre-Oasis life to unlock the necessary secrets. Challenging them is Ben Mendelsohn as Nolan Sorrento, the ruthless CEO of Innovative Industries (IOI) who will do whatever it takes to absorb the Oasis into his business portfolio and has an entire army of corporate employees (including his right-hand woman, Hannah John-Kamen's F'Nale Zandor) to assist in this twisted endeavor. Also in his temporary employ is i-Rok, a freelance online bounty hunter who plays dirty for the right price with his hulking cyborg form. As always, Spielberg makes his cast shine. Sheridan as Wade is very likable right from the start. Cooke adds layers to her character in both her virtual and real world forms. Mendelson can easily play slimy egotistical villains with insecurities in his sleep. The real standout is Rylance as Halliday who conquers every scene that he is in with his subtle emotional display that instantly conveys his touching social anxiety and a powerful underlying sadness. I cannot say too much about the other actors without spoiling things further but Lena Waithe (from Netflix's Master of None), Philip Zao, Win Morisaki, TJ Miller, Susan Lynch, Ralph Ineson, Simon Pegg, Perdita Weeks and Clare Higgins all play their unique roles wonderfully.
Of course, just like the novel that it's adapted from, the movie is a sincere tribute to 80's and 90's pop culture. Characters, vehicles and props from many of our favorite franchises show up to give us smiles at the right moments. From what I understand, it tookly nearly 3 years for his crew to acquire the rights to all of the properties that are leveraged here and I am completely convinced. The more overt of these pop cultural elements all move the plot forward in an organic way. There are tons of easter eggs scattered in the background as well (so many that I'll definitely be pausing multiple times when watching the Blu-ray that is a sure-fire purchase at this point). Halliday's character was an unashamed pop culture junkie (much like yours truly) and the Oasis was designed to preserve much of what inspired his imagination in the best way possible. It is also a love letter to gaming in general while having a positive message about friendship and family in Spielberg's signature heart-warming style. The electrifying score from Alan Silvestri (the famed composer of Back To The Future) elevates the celebration even further.
The only thing to criticize is how quickly the story moved. More time could have been spent showing exactly how the real world functions to better illustrate how the Oasis could be a sanctuary for the broken spirits of so many unhappy individuals. The relationship between Wade and Art3mis could have also used slower pacing. That all being said, the movie is already almost 2 and a half hours long and so, being able to deliver a satisfying big screen extravaganza in this limited time frame is something that Spielberg should deserve mighty praise for.
I highly recommend watching this at your local movie theater as soon as it is humanly possible for you do to do so. So, what are you waiting for?!!!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.