Wade hurrying home in “The Stacks” of Columbus, Ohio.
The real world of the year 2045 that orphaned teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in is a not a pretty place. The failure to solve crises like global warming, the housing shortage, and wealth distribution have led to a world where most people struggle to survive in poor living conditions. Certainly that is the case with Wade, who now lives in The Stacks with his aunt (Susan Lynch) and her loser boyfriend (Ralph Ineson), where a collection of mobile homes have been stacked on top of each other in a slum-like junkyard setting. The only thing that keeps Wade going is the time he spends in OASIS, a huge virtual universe created by the late technology genius James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a place where people like Wade spend most of their lives to escape the harsh reality of the real world. In OASIS Wade becomes his avatar Parzifal, a cooler version of himself. As Parzifal, he can go to any of the many virtual worlds of OASIS, and create a life for himself limited only by his imagination and his skills operating the virtual toys, vehicles, and weapons he creates.
Best friends Aech and Parzifal in the world of OASIS.
The plot of this film focuses on the treasure hunt contest to find three keys that will unlock the location of a golden egg which represents Halliday’s immense fortune and control of the OASIS. When this was announced five years ago upon the death of Mr. Halliday, there was a mad rush to try and find the keys. But to date no one has been successful at even locating one of the keys, causing the field of gunters (egg hunters) to diminish to a smaller number of avid contestants. We soon meet some of the other gunters: Aech (Lena Waithe), who appears as a large muscular mechanic and fighter, spending most of his/her time fighting in the combatant areas of OASIS, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a famous gunter who is one of Parzifal’s rivals and later main collaborator in the hunt, Daito (Win Morisaki), who specializes in samurai fighting strategies, and Sho (Philip Zhao), who Wade/Parzifal describes as an “eleven-year-old bad ass”. Together they make up the Big Five, a team of ordinary folk searching for the keys. Also in the hunt is corporate bad guy Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who is determined to gain control of the OASIS no matter what the cost. He and his firm IOI (Innovative Online Industries) has hundreds of workers trying to locate the keys, including a large team who research details of 1980s pop culture — especially the classic movies and video games that Halliday loved, lots of muscle, and two main collaborators F’Nale (Hannah John-Kamen), and I-ROk (T.J. Miller) who are sent to harass and stop the Big Five team. IOI also has set up loyalty centers, comprised of people who have debts to pay called Sixers, who are forced to work for IOI.
Wade and Samantha in her rooftop garden.
The search for the three keys is set up through a series of challenges. The first challenge is a car race through a crazy New York City racetrack with incredibly difficult obstacles to get through. But nobody has ever won, because a huge virtual King Kong monster comes and destroys anyone who makes it even close to the finish line. Parzifal suddenly realizes that the race in its traditional set up is unwinnable, and he saves Art3mis (real name Samantha) from being destroyed by the monster. Parzifal then heads to the Halliday Journals, an area of OASIS that contains virtual reproductions of Halliday’s entire life where he discovers a quote about going backwards, which he realizes is the key to winning the race: you have to take the racetrack backwards. When he does this, he successfully reaches the finish line and is awarded the first key. Livid when he see’s Parzifal’s name on the leader board, Sorrento puts his forces out against Parzifal, trying to figure out who he is so he can take him out. He even offers him 50 millions dollars for the key, but Parzifal refuses. In his gamer code of ethics, Sorrento should never get control of OASIS because he isn’t a true believer, just a poser. Things now begin to heat up in this plot driven story, especially after Art3mis figures out how to get the second key. A real war develops between Parzifal’s Big Five and the evil forces of IOI and Sorrento, which makes up the balance of the film.
The Curator, Parzifal, and Art3mis viewing a scene from James Halliday’s life.
The fast, intense pace of Ready Player One is just like that of a non-stop action video game. The art work, animation, and special effects are incredible, to say the least. This is true eye candy. Of course non-stop action means little to no time for character development or personal interaction to build relationships in the traditional manner, but that isn’t the movie’s purpose. Instead the relationship between Wade/Parzifal and Art3mis/Samantha builds through plot action. Culturally this movie is a paean to the 1980s, with its constant references to and usage of games, movies, and music of that era. It would take a number of viewings to pick everything out. Ready Player One is meant to be an entertaining movie rather than a serious film with a message, a roller coaster ride not a character study. It also a tribute to the genius mind and there are clever analogies to that, like when you see an article about Steve Jobs posted on Wade’s wall in his room. This is Steven Spielberg at his best in making this fabulous example of pop culture. One could argue that having a few more slower paced scenes would give the characters more depth, but then you are starting to switch genres. So just like Wade Watts, lace up your chucks, put on your viewer, and buckle up for a fun ride into the world of CGI (computer graphic imagery).
Parzifal and Art3mis recovering after a car crash in virtual reality.
Wade in his trailer playing in OASIS.
One thing that is true about the world of 2045 as portrayed in Ready Player One is that teenagers still love wearing chucks. Tye Sheridan, who plays Wade, wears black high top chucks throughout the film. In the world of OASIS, his virtual character Parzifal, also wears black high top chucks, now drawn in animation, so you know that they are an important part of his identity. But the best scenes with chucks are when Wade is his normal self, in his living quarters in the stack city. There you see him as a typical teenager dealing with a difficult family situation while trying to do something with his life.
Wade relaxing on his bed above the dryer.
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