This is a review of the film Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel by Ernest Cline, which I caught at a matinee yesterday. It tells the 2045 tale of an America locked in a dystopian future. Much of society has collapsed into poverty and oppression, with a majority of the population living in dangerous tenements. Their only relief is found in living an alternate existence in a massive virtual world known as the OASIS, where they can be or do almost anything they like… for a price.

Into this online domain comes Wade Watts and his online avatar Parzival. Wade and his group of friends are trying to find a secret easter egg left by the game’s now-deceased creator. Unfortunately, so is everyone else on the planet. Whoever solves the seemingly impossible puzzle will take ownership of the entire OASIS company (in both the real and virtual worlds) and possess riches untold. I won’t ruin too much of the rest of the plotline from there. I will take a moment, however, to note that the special effects in this film are nothing short of spectacular. This is particularly true of how the blending of the real world and the avatar world is handled so seamlessly.

If you go into this movie without having read the book, looking for some sort of epic sci-fi adventure full of gripping suspense and heroic themes you might come away a bit disappointed. If you read the book (which was a lot of fun but tended more toward the silly and geeky than the original Tron for example) it may still fall a bit short of expectations. But with that said, the movie is still a lot of fun, particularly for gaming aficionados “of a certain age.” It is so packed with clever references to gaming lore dating back to the days of pong and other gaming culture touchstones that real fans of the genre will likely be chuckling all the way through. I’m not that deep into the culture and even I was recognizing some every few minutes. That’s probably why one reviewer at Wired called it, “a super smash-cut of movie, gaming, and anime icons.”

The news isn’t all good, however. If you were hoping for the tension of a true adventure classic and associated plot complexities, forget it. This story is neatly divided into the good guys and the bad guys, and despite constant threats and seemingly daunting challenges, there’s never any real doubt that the good guys will win the day in the end.

If you’re the type to flinch at any association with liberal figures or the incorporation of social justice warrior themes in your entertainment, be forewarned. (I don’t let it bother me, but I receive feedback from many who do.) Social justice themes abound and are embedded in everything from the character development to the blaming of Big Capitalism for the horrid state of oppressed humanity. It’s a cornucopia of diversity, but none of that bothers me and I found both the characters and the story enjoyable.

All in all, this was just a fun movie. I didn’t feel that my matinee ticket was wasted money and the film moved along at a brisk pace. I don’t see it going down as one of the all-time sci-fi classics (or really anywhere close to it) but it was enjoyable.

On the Hot Air scale, Ready Player One gets a 4:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

The film drew a PG-13 rating which seems about right. There’s really no adult content at all in terms of sexuality, nudity or concepts which children will find challenging. There’s a bit of language, but nothing you don’t hear on primetime television most days. There’s violence to be sure, but almost all of it is of the video game nature where combatants disappear into a cloud of pixels rather than generating fields of bloody corpses. All but the youngest children should be able to handle it.