“March Movie Madness” has become an alternatively popular time of year at the movies. More and more production studios are releasing big budget blockbusters in the month that brings us Spring Break, and in 2018, there’s been no exception: Love, Simon derailed stereotypical teen rom-coms, Lara Croft tried her best at raiding the big screen (yet again) with Tomb Raider, and though it was released back in February, Black Panther  was officially crowned the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time! Simultaneously, Pacific Rim Uprising opened last weekend with $28 million domestically, snagging the number one spot from Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) despite subpar reviews. 

Now at the tail-end of March, and moving into Easter long weekend, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is powered up and ready compete at the box office, too. With directing royalty at its helm and a mumble jumble of pop culture references, hidden Easter eggs, and impeccable CGI to keep your cravings satisfied, Ready Player One demands you buckle up and enjoy the ride. But how did we get here? How did this futuristic sci-fi/fantasy adventure set in a virtual reality come about? What is Ready Player One and why is everybody talking about it?

Promotions haven’t helped answer these questions much, but that could be entirely on purpose as the audience Ready Player One is reaching already knows this movie is based on an arguably poorly written book by a celebrated yet disgruntled author, Ernest Cline. Described as an “Exciting, funny, futuristic thriller about online games,” Ready Player One (the book) is layered with inside jokes and cunning references that both celebrate and critique online gaming culture. Ready Player One (the movie) does the same, but less crudely, and to the sounds of a nostalgic, Back To The Future-era soundtrack. Steven Spielberg takes the basis of Ernest Kline’s inventive and sometimes abashing story and turned it into an epic CGI adventure that transports audiences into the very pixels of their favourite video game experiences.

Ready Player One is advertised as “an adventure too big for the real world” and it follows an orphaned protagonist named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) in the year 2045, twenty years after his parents died. Now, he lives with his aunt and her troubled partner in “The Stacks,” a dystopian and futuristic slum in Columbus, Ohio, where reality is much less desirable than virtual reality. Nearly everyone in the future is invested in the OASIS – a simulated fantasy land where the limits of reality are within the player’s own imagination. In the OASIS, Wade is known as Parzival, a blue-accented avatar who enters the OASIS’ utopia to escape his troubled everyday life, but he ends up finding something bigger – integrity, friendship, and above all else, love.

Both in the book and the movie, the OASIS is the brainchild of creator James Halliday aka Anorak (Mark Rylance, The BFG, Dunkirk), a quirky and pop culture-obsessed innovator whose life ends without ever having been loved. Before his death, he set up an intricate and thrilling contest to find three hidden keys (aka Easter eggs) within the realms of the OASIS. The first player to find all three keys will inherit Halliday’s fortune, as well as the OASIS in its entirety, and in-turn, dictate its future. All of the challenges require deep thought and echo all of your favourite video games, movies, and pop culture references; Ready Player One is an over-the-top CGI love letter to fandom, mixing elements of Back To The Future, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, King Kong, The Matrix, Willy Wonka, The Wizard of Oz, The Goonies, DC Comics (is that the Batmobile?!) and John Hughes movies, to name just a few. There are so many tidbits throughout this film that it would be impossible to spot them all in your first viewing. If you can, you’re a guru.

The book’s writer Ernest Cline is credited as writing the movie’s screenplay along with Zak Penn (The Avengers) but the movie version veers away from the book’s characters and plot lines in a way that deems it appropriate for all audiences. In so many ways, Ready Player One is a Steven Spielberg adventure for today’s generation. Wade (Parzival) is connected to a platoon of underdogs – At3mis aka Samantha (Olivia Cooke, TV’s Bates Motel), Aech aka Helen (Lena Waithe, TV’s The Chi), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao) – competing to find the keys, but when a large corporation called the Innovative Online Industries (IOI) vies for the same prize, things get tricky.

The key elements of Ready Player One force the audience to take a look at the world around them; is this where our technologically-ridden world is headed? In many ways, we’re already here. Everyone is connected and even obsessed with the world wide web and online gaming that we forget about the very real world around us. People enter the OASIS for things they can do but stay for all the things they can be. Like the movie’s sinister yet often hilarious villains – F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen, Tomb Raider), I-Rok (T.J. Miller, Deadpool 2), and the head honcho of the IOI, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). The bad guys in Ready Player One help remind audiences what’s worth fighting for in life. 

During the 2h 20m running time, Ready Player One’s  CGI, settings, soundtrack and action/adventure make for some of the best movie magic in recent history, especially a particular scene that takes place in the infamous hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Other than that, any actual connection to the main characters and their real-world lifestyles is short-lived and hard to connect to. They’re secondary to the OASIS in every way possible. Ready Player One, with all of its dialogue about love and saving the world, focuses mainly on the thrills and spills – it’s pop culture whiplash, and that’s okay, as long as you know what you’re signing up for. In a film where the future of human contact is being threatened, we’re reminded to live in the here and now as much as possible…. Before we all become avatars in the OASIS!

“Welcome to the rebellion!”

Tip: See this movie in 3D!

4 Popcorn Kernels / 5

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About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.