Taking place half in Columbus, Ohio and half in a virtual playground known as the Oasis, Ready Player One follows the story of Wade Watts, a young “gunter” amongst millions all vying for the same prize.  Wade and all the others are searching for an Easter egg hidden by the Oasis’ creator, James Halliday, located somewhere in the vastness of the Oasis. Whoever finds it and beats the challenges needed to earn the three keys that lead to the egg will be granted control of the Oasis Halliday’s fortune. It makes for an interesting premise, no?

Wade, who goes by the moniker Parzival in the Oasis, is in it all for the love of the hunt. He prides himself on being a “gunter,” or egg hunter. Of course, for a kid from The Stacks, a futuristic skyward trailer park, a lot of money, a mansion, and control of anything would be amazing too. The bad guys, led by IOI head Nolan Sorrento, are part of a competing tech company and are out to control the Oasis in order to turn it into greater profits for themselves. Wade’s admiration for Halliday, together with his knowledge of Halliday’s past, are his biggest assets in finding the keys. This leads to compelling insights into the mind of Halliday, making him one of the most interesting and seldom seen characters in Ready Player One.

Not just a reference-fest

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the beloved sci-fi novel Ready Player One is far more than just a reference-fest. It’s an action film first, both in the relatively bland real world and in the colorful, over-the-top virtual one. The movie carries Spielberg’s signature affinity for thoughtful timing and genuinely thrilling sequences. Look forward to explosive car chases, astounding recreations of classic films, and enormous shootouts. Ready Player One’s big action moments are some of the best excuses to go crazy with the visuals.

Spielberg’s unmatch creativity is used to the fullest extent in this largely animated movie. Environments twist and shift around characters with careful thought put into camera placement. Every part of the Oasis that you need to understand for story purposes (like inventories, or what happens when players ‘die’) is clearly and effectively communicated. So much so that the Oasis feels fully-realized.

Ready Player One is genuinely funny

From a monstrous Oasis avatar complaining about his real-world neck strain to a clever use of in-game props, Ready Player One is cleverly written and clearly the product of pop culture enthusiasts. It never lingers too long on a single joke. In fact, one of Ready Player One’s biggest successes is that it very rarely takes itself too seriously. It does get cheesy at times, like when Wade unironically says the line “a fanboy knows a hater,” but those moments are few and far between.

Some of the best jokes are cuts between what’s happening in the real world and how it influences the Oasis. If someone is being attacked in the Oasis, there’s smart use of physical comedy. Even when it’s completely animated, you can still imagine what it looks like on the outside and it works so well.

Without spoiling anything, there is a challenge that’s based on a well-known horror movie. It takes an iconic movie setting you’re definitely familiar with and puts a character who’s never seen it right in the middle of the terrifying story. Watching that character fumble over things as the entire audience groans and laughs was great. It was even better when it flipped that knowledge on you as a moviegoer.

That horror segment is built on a cameo that’s particularly successful because it’s actually important to the plot. It’s not a one-off gag. Most of the others serve no purpose other than to get some easy laughs or a smile. Sometimes it’s seeing Harley Quinn as a player’s avatar or just a throwaway line of dialogue. People will be picking out the pop culture Easter eggs from this movie for years. I have to admit to personally being charmed by plenty of its references.

Expectations vs Non-Virtual Reality

Ready Player One fixates on the Oasis and doesn’t spend enough time fleshing out dystopian Ohio circa 2045. Most of my questions might be answered in the book, but are unfortunately neglected in the movie. Every time the plot returned to the real world I was curious. The set design and art direction are both notably impressive, but even still these transitions almost always left me underwhelmed.

The movie struggles to find it’s footing when it’s not in the OASIS. Most of the scenes felt undercooked and there to move the plot along instead of adding interesting dialog or exposition. For example, Samantha, another gunter, is a member of a resistance group fighting for the freedom from IOI. The movie, however, never bothers to explain what or who they are or why it is so important to them to prevent IOI’s takeover. And don’t look for it in the book either – it’s a plot line that is in the film version only.

The two primary villains felt one dimensional and lacking true motivation. Characters’ backstories are easy to ignore and are mostly just one-off sentences you’ll forget one scene later. Wade Watts is an orphan,  that’s mentioned once. It ultimately serves no purpose to him as a character and doesn’t contribute to the movie’s storyline. There’s not a remarkable amount of character development overall outside of valuing teamwork. Almost every character’s story seems to be simple and ultimately positive. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just lacking in depth.

At the end of the day, Ready Player One is a fun take on the book with several key differences. Some for the better, some not so much. It draws you in with the Oasis but fails to do the same with its real-world counterpart. The movie is light and filled with great moments, but ultimately lacks depth or complexity.

I say read the book, even if you want to see the movie first. The book dives deep into the world, the characters, and the race to find Halliday’s Easter egg. You can probably grab a copy at your local Bookmans today – we’ve been keeping it on our HOT READS displays for the past year because there are constant requests for this title!