Rather than the sneaker innovating utopia in Back to the Future Part 2, 2045 has everyone living in James Halliday’s (Mark Rylance) VR paradise, the Oasis. Upon his death, he bequeaths his fortune and ownership of the virtual world to whoever can find three keys. In the corner of Columbus, Ohio is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) escaping his aunt’s horrible taste in lovers through the contest. And in the corner of tech company i0i, CEO Noland Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) wants to reap the inheritance for his company to take over the world.
As far as Ernest Cline’s book is concerned (he co-wrote the screenplay), I couldn’t get into it because it felt like fan-fiction begging for a different medium. And kudos to those who were able to get something out of it. If this wasn’t crafted by Steven Spielberg, I probably wouldn’t have given it attention. But if there’s anyone that can give a film adaptation a chance to surpass its source material, it’s the director who made the characters in Jaws and Jurassic Park likeable. And with the added copyright nightmare this must’ve endured (Youtubers go through that process daily with minimal leeway), the sense of accomplishment is a lot more prominent when playing Where’s Roger Rabbit? once the tour of the dazzling digital world begins. The story doesn’t screech to a halt like Family Guy’s cutaway jokes, it keeps going with some of the best action this year. The opening race highlights Spielberg’s ability to utilize animation to its full potential swinging the camera from car to car at 100 miles an hour dodging a T-Rex and King Kong. It’s then followed by an amazing horror recreation for those familiar or new to the reference (no spoilers about it here). And the messages behind the story present good commentary on today’s culture saturated with streaming, social media and escapism from the real world.
But in homaging the past, some of the kinks aren’t ironed out like in Stranger Things. Wade is no different from any other generic protagonist, often upstaged by his supporting friends. His romance with Samantha (Olivia Cooke) is uninteresting considering she’s a much stronger character than him. Even Ben Mendelsohn as the corporate overlord doesn’t have a lot to work with because he and everyone else are subject to a bare minimum of 80’s character trends. And the morals it tries to convey doesn’t go all out in showing not telling. There’s a strong build up to false identity in the Oasis and falling in love with that as opposed to a real living human being, but it gets chucked out the window in execution when push comes to shove. You could argue that this is just a fun ride, but with the surprising messages behind all the relevant subject matter, it’s kind of disappointing that it didn’t dive deeper into the rabbit hole.
Stepping away from the reference hunting, Ready Player One definitely surpasses it’s book counterpart with intense action, dazzling digital world and relevant messages. Reading it is one thing, but watching it is a whole different experience when taking in how much work had to go into acquiring these characters to only be on screen for three seconds tops. Fans of the book should probably approach this with caution as I hear there’s a lot of deviations when transitioning to the screen. Something that’s common for Spielberg adaptations that try to capture the spirit over narrative loyalty. Whether it takes full advantage of the concept depends on your nostalgic hunger because it doesn’t have full confidence to convey the deep messages about escapism and balancing reality. But as is, it’s a fun ride that’ll definitely warrant multiple viewings at home just to see spot Sonic and Tails alongside the Spartans from Halo in the gigantic finale.