Ready Player One

In 2045, the world has become such a depressing place for all but the super rich that teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, "Mud"), like much of the population, spends most of his time in OASIS, a virtual reality where he competes for coins as his avatar Parzival. When OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies," "The BFG") dies, he leaves behind a competition, a quest for an Easter Egg that requires completing three challenges for three keys with the prize being ownership of OASIS itself. But the CEO of Gregarious Games's chief rival Innovative Online Industries (IOI), Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn, "Darkest Hour"), has an army of players called Sixers, a research team to ponder clues and OASIS bounty hunter I-R0k (voice of T.J. Miller) and he's determined to own it all in "Ready Player One."

Laura's Review: B-

This combination of live action, motion capture and CGI from director Steven Spielberg is a timely adventure with its themes of our relationship to the online world and the corporations who seek to control it. Adapted from Ernest Cline's novel by himself and screenwriter Zak Penn ("X-Men: The Last Stand"), concepts of online anonymity, data security, consumerism, income inequality, capitalistic greed and the simple pleasures of reality are all explored, but most will be drawn to the film for the visual dazzle of imaginary worlds and, with a few exceptions, this is where the film falls short. Actually, the near-future reality is an interesting construction, people housed in old RVs, trailer homes and vehicles all resting in slots of what look like giant computer racks, hence the area's name of 'The Stacks.' As the camera follows Wade from his home with Aunt Alice (Susan Lynch, "From Hell") and her latest awful boyfriend Rick (Ralph Ineson, "The Witch"), we peep in on various inhabitants all wearing VR glasses, gesturing like madmen. Wade suits up in the back of an old van and immediately searches for his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe, TV's 'Master of None'), who he's never met in real life, a giant cyborg mechanic currently building his own Iron Giant. Parzival lines up for the race through OASIS's version of New York City, in his "Back to the Future" DeLorean and is astonished to see legendary player Art3mis (Olivia Cooke, "Thoroughbreds") on her "Akira" motorcycle idling beside him. The race is hair raising, drivers contending with shifting landscapes, a T-Rex and King Kong himself, the giant ape setting an unavoidable trap right before the finish line. Parzival saves Art3mis, but she's skittish. OASIS contains a vast research center known as Halliday's Journals presided over by a Curator modeled on an English butler that evokes early web search engine 'Ask Jeeves.' The Curator expresses irritation with Parzival, one of his most insistent customers at the archive that holds all of Halliday's memories and every piece of popular culture he'd ever consumed. Watching an old moment between Halliday and his Gregarious Games cofounder Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) (the events are viewed like a live show behind a glass window with a hand railing), Parzival hones in on one phrase he thinks is the key to winning the first competition. Proven right, his name goes up on the Leaderboard. Sorrento takes notice, using his resources to uncover Parzival's real identity. Art3mis, who witnessed Parzival's tactic, is the second to complete, quickly followed by Aech, Japanese Samurai warrior Daito (Win Morisaki) and ninja Sho (Philip Zhao). Parzival, flush with coinage in addition to his key, goes shopping with Aech at IOI and picks up some fancy weaponry and gear. After a VR date with Art3mis at The Distracted Globe, the disco Parzival believes holds the next clue, the Gunter (egg hunter), who's in the game for personal riches, discovers Art3mis is leading an anti-IOI revolution, and after an attack on his real home which kills his only family, turns activist along with friends Aech, Daito and Sho, becoming known as the High Five. The self realization behind Halliday's game is pure Spielberg sentiment, yet it works for the lonely nerd, surely Rylance's most unlikely yet endearing characterization. The film is stuffed with 80's nostalgia - look there's the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hello Kitty, Batman and Beetlejuice! - but the film is so visually busy it overloads our senses and cast in such murk it fails to please the eye. The disco is a cavernous, dark space where figures float. Planet Doom has no color and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's ("The BFG," "The Post") propensity for white haze has no place in a digital world. The film's best sequence involves a visit to a Kubrick film, painstakingly recreated yet lacking the movie's raison d'etre. The film's biggest laugh goes to a weaponized Chucky doll. "Ready Player One" wraps in the usual heroes united in glory moment, their true identities amazing even themselves, but the game at the heart of Parzival's victory, the first to feature an Easter Egg, is remembered much more fondly by this critic in its original, text format. Grade:

Robin's Review: DNS