As the official bard to the court of King Reagan, Steven Spielberg may well look back at the 1980s as happy times. The 1980s-filia of Ready Player One is unsettling to those who don’t consider that decade a paradise lost. From the numerous references in Ready Player One to Back to the Future, released in 1985, it’s clear that Spielberg considers this a particularly evocative film, a nostalgia trip that ends in the rewriting of history to make for a stronger, richer suburbia.
Others would consider the definitive piece of 1980s zeitgeist as the 1989 Batman, summing up the grief, squalor and expressionistic horror of the cities. Such are the conditions in the OASIS of the year 2044, a virtual reality Imaginationland. Mechagodzilla battles Brad Bird’s Iron Giant from the 1999 movie, the stabby doll Chucky bursts through a windshield and King Kong attacks.
Before the game-master James Halliday (Mark Rylance) died, he deeded the OASIS to whoever could find three hidden keys—“invisible keys in a dark room.” This Willy Wonka-like challenge attracted Ohio’s Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphan in an Ohio trailer park. Wade named his avatar Parzifal in honor of the seeker of the Holy Grail. Inside the OASIS’ games he encounters a famous avatar—an unnaturally big-eyed living anime called Artemis, actually a shy girl named Samantha (Olivia Cooke).
The OASIS is under danger of takeover by the much-loathed Innovative Online Industries, chaired by the evil capitalist Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). He’s aided by his hulking enforcer I-R0k (T. J. Miller) and his glamorous henchwoman F’Nale Zandor (the half-Norwegian half-Nigerian Hannah John-Kamen). These evildoers operate a debtor’s prison/slave labor colony for those who’ve lost their money wagering on these games.
It’s all based on Ernest Cline’s popular novel of ideas—a few of the ideas are even Cline’s own. The quest is said to be about love, but it’s more plausibly about gain and career.