Published Mar 30, 2018Thanks to the cyclical power of nostalgia, the '80s are all the rage these days, even more now than when Ernest Cline released his debut novel, Ready Player One, in 2011. Since the book — an homage to '80s pop culture set to a treasure hunt through a massive virtual world — took off, we've seen the return of several of the period's most beloved properties — Blade Runner, It, Mad Max — as well as similarly minded homage Stranger Things, which only make Ready Player One more of a fit.
If it's the '80s that people want, that's what Ready Player One gives them. From the iconic staccato synth chords of Van Halen's "Jump" that score the film's opening moments, Ready Player One dives into a dizzying stream of references and cameos bound to keep audiences engaged with a treasure hunt of their own.
Transplanting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's plot onto a massive online virtual utopia, Ready Player One focuses on a ragtag group of young gamers as they navigate the many worlds of the OASIS in search of three hidden keys that will give them control over the whole enterprise, all while escaping pursuit from a monolithic organization bent on monetizing the whole thing. It's a self-concious ode to a hammy genre, deftly reproducing the beats of films like The Last Starfighter and The Goonies.
This film adaptation takes a much more exciting approach than the original's dry, reference-driven plot. An early car chase serves to excite no matter how many of the iconic vehicles you could name, and the endless stream of references that have become Cline's trademark are often smartly relegated to blink-and-you'll-miss-'em flashes. Unlike in the book, however, the references are largely a bonus — mere background detail, leaving the plot unencumbered for the uninitiated.
With Steven Spielberg, the undisputed king of the '80s blockbuster, ascending the director's chair, Ready Player One is as authentic an homage as you can get. It's fairly by-the-numbers plot is both bolstered and hindered by its status as an homage. The characters are largely used as a means to explore both the OASIS's digital utopia and the post-apocalyptic real world with wide-eyed wonder. Ready Player One is not so much a groundbreaking recontextualizing, more doe-eyed affection with no critical commentary. (Warner Bros.)