Ready Player One is the cinematic equivalent of stuffing your face with digital cotton candy. Steven Spielberg lends his master's touch to a movie that, in the wrong hands, could have led to disaster. Thankfully, he's given us a movie that stands apart from the book and delivers a fun, sugary adventure that's light on intellect but high on imagination.
Based on a book that society collectively turned on sometime in the last year or two, RPO has us following Wade Watts, also known by his avatar Parzival, as he and other internet people try to find the ultimate easter egg hidden within an endlessly huge virtual internet known as The Oasis, where you can see, be, and do pretty much whatever you want. Whoever wins the egg wins control of the Oasis, along with its creator James Halliday's enormous fortune. Trying to stop Wade and get the egg first are the evil corporate overlords at IOI, who want control of the Oasis to monetize it and make it awful.
Nerds all around the world have been triggered at the sight of their childhood icons running amok in this virtual playground, but I'm happy to report that you can put your fears to bed. Sure, there are lots of pop culture references, but they aren't as heavy-handed as they are in the book, they fit the world of the movie, and more importantly, they're rooted in character. Specifically, Halliday's. Spielberg wisely makes his adaptation, and the crux of this adventure, more about discovering who Halliday is than it is about discovering how dope Wade is at various Atari 2600 games. Halliday's interests and life factored into the story of the book, but not nearly as much as they do here.
In fact, I’d say most of the things that people have been worried about are mostly unfounded. My biggest gripe with the film is that it doesn't pack that emotional wallop that Spielberg's better films have. However, given the source material, I was surprised to see it have as much heart as it does. Wade isn't a very compelling hero, and the villain is as one-dimensional as one would expect, but they serve their purposes well enough. There's some thematic exploration on the idea of online identity and realty vs. virtual reality. Not enough to make a big statement, but enough to give it more meat than the source material at the very least.
Visually, the film is an explosion of 1s and 0s run amok. Some of the action sequences are truly bonkers, but thankfully they're all pretty easy to follow. Spielberg's command of cinematic language hasn't stumbled one bit, and there's one sequence in particular that had me howling with glee. I genuinely don't know how Spielberg comes up with some of this shit, let alone how he visualizes and directs it, but I guess that's why he's still one of the world's greatest living filmmakers.
Overall, I'd call Ready Player One a fun and solid entry into Spielberg's storied filmography. It's not nearly among his best, but it's definitely not as bad as the internet decided it was when first announced. I'd say its third-tier Spielberg: Enjoyable, but inessential. I'd put it on the same level as Tintin, although I enjoyed RPO a lot more. If you're looking for a nuanced film that has big things to say about gaming culture, gamergate, and other very important things, then you should look elsewhere. But if you want to see a fun movie that doesn't treat you like an idiot, has a bunch of cool whiz-bang setpieces, and delivers in satisfying, Spielbergian ways, then you should go see this on the biggest, loudest screen possible.