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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

His name is Wade Watts.

If that sounds like a typical hero’s name in a comic book adventure, well, that’s exactly why his dad picked it. But that’s about the only way orphaned Wade feels like a hero these days.

You see, Wade lives with his aunt in an over-packed and decidedly dystopian Columbus, Ohio, circa 2045. It’s a squalid trailer park where cheap, tin tenements are stacked vertically. It’s the kind of place people go to great lengths to escape mentally, even if they can’t do so physically.

That’s why the virtual reality game OASIS is so beloved worldwide. In this vast, ever-morphing online universe, you can do anything and go anywhere you please. You can ski down the pyramids, soar with your own wings, climb Mount Everest … with Batman. It’s an incredible place. And it’s the only other way that Wade can feel like a hero.

As the avatar Parzival, Wade logs as many hours as possible in this almost indescribably astounding digital reality. In fact, it’s more real than real, if you ask him. And it’s all thanks to the late gamemaking guru James Halliday.

Ah, but that’s not the only thing this great man gave to the world: He also gave people like Wade … a purpose. When Halliday passed, his virtual image was projected far and wide, inviting every OASIS member to enter into three trials for three keys. And those keys lead to an in-game Easter egg that rewards its finder with about 500 billion bucks.

Oh, and complete control of OASIS itself.

Of course, these challenges are mysterious and difficult. In fact, the first one—a stupefying tough road race—is virtually impossible. No one has even come close to finishing it. That’s not to say Wade and his fellow gunters (short for egg hunters) aren’t continuing to try. For that matter, even corporate entities are in the hunt.

Innovative Online Industries (IOI)—led by corporate bigwig Nolan Sorrento—has hired an army of skilled gamers and researchers to seek out any clue from Halliday’s history, to grab any slight technological advantage. Sorrento is nearly salivating over the chance to bring Halliday’s empire under his corporate banner and to inject OASIS with the very element that Halliday hated most: advertising!

Wade, though, knows that IOI can never win. Halliday was too brilliant to leave the virtual door even slightly cracked for a dirtbag like Sorrento. No, it’ll be a gunter, if it’s anybody. After all, this is nothing less than a war for control of the future. It’ll be someone completely immersed, completely dedicated to Halliday and his creation. That’s the only way the egg will be found. It has to be a true believer, a hero.

It has to be someone with a real-world name like Wade Watts.

Positive Elements

Ready Player One illustrates the colorful appeal and potential of a creative, swirling virtual reality. But it also warns that being fully consumed by such a false reality is unhealthy. In fact, Halliday’s key challenges all seem to connect in some way to his own personal laments about the time and relationships he lost in the course of creating OASIS. “It needs to go back to just being a game,” he says.

Wade ultimately reiterates that same sound sentiment. Even though he finds friendships and purpose in the game world, he eventually meets fellow gamers in the real world and forms far stronger bonds with them. After meeting a girl named Samantha and falling in love, Wade even starts seeing the beauty of the less-than-perfect outside world that he’d never quite recognized before. “It’s so much slower and peaceful here,” he notes while standing in a quiet place with the wind blowing through his hair.

Wade and his friends fight together to protect each other and OASIS from the clutches of IOI. And Samantha is doubly determined to fight against the corporate giant because it created the greedy constructs that led to her father’s death.

Spiritual Elements

Wade says that to some OASIS gamers, “Halliday was like a god.” He suggests that some players worshipped Halliday as much as the game world he created.

That idea is underscored by the fact that gamers visit and study a VR journal Halliday left behind, a digital tome that illustrates his life and his obsessive love for pop culture. Reverent devotees approach the subject matter therein almost as if it was holy scripture.

In fact, upon meeting Halliday in OASIS, Wade’s avatar falls to his knees in awe. He also notes that Halliday’s in-game image isn’t like a normal avatar at all, but is instead more lifelike. Since the real Halliday is dead, Wade asks this virtual version “What are you?” He never gets an answer.

There’s also a magical in-game artifact that’s turned on and off by someone chanting what sounds like an incantation (and which is explicitly called a “spell”).

Sexual Content

In the real world, Samantha runs around in fitted tank tops (and other mildly revealing garb). Her in-game avatar, Art3mis, wears more clingy and low-cut clothing. She wears a particularly slinky outfit while dancing seductively with Wade’s avatar, Parzival. She caresses him, which lights up contact points on Wade’s real-world gaming suit. At one point, the suit’s crotch area glows from an unseen VR caress.

Some other OASIS avatars also exude a sense of sensuality. A Harley Quinn lookalike and other female characters, for instance, wear low-cut tops. And a cat-like avatar sports a large furry décolletage.

One OASIS scene involves a woman stepping out of a bathtub. (We see her bare legs and back.) She then transforms into a rotting corpse that swings an ax; she’s still, apparently, naked, but her badly decomposing form makes that a moot issue.

Violent Content

The thumping, pounding, slashing and exploding action of Ready Player One is a driving spectacle.

We witness a few real-world shoot-outs and fights. The gunters are shot at and pummeled as they try to outrun IOI pursuers. Wade and several other characters get hit in the face a few times, and a female IOI employee is kicked out of the back of a moving van to tumble in the street. We see her later with a raw scrape on her face. Sorrento also gets kicked in the crotch, and he doubles over in pain.

The most violent real-world event involves drones planting explosives on a stack of mobile homes; the subsequent explosion takes out a tower of trailers and their human occupants (and nearly crushes bystanders below).

By and large, though, the greatest font of destruction and mayhem flows in OASIS itself. We see everything from an open war between thousands of screaming characters who shoot and slash at one another to explosive car crashes to King Kong crumpling vehicles and Mechagodzilla gobbling characters whole. And it’s all presented in a constantly swirling cacophony of sound and bombastic images.

Axes chop, bombs explode and scores of pop-culture killers—including a fevered Chucky doll with a butcher knife in his fist—hack away at in-game players. In all these cases, though, we never see anything bloody. The avatars simply “zero out,”—exploding in a gush of coins and loot that other characters can collect.

During a scene in a creepy hotel, an elevator door opens and a flood of blood washes down a hallway. Characters fight and yank around virtual zombie-like creatures. A giant, sympathetic, virtual robot loses an arm and fingers. An avatar vanishes under molten lava. Guns are brandished. And there’s that ax-wielding zombie woman I mentioned above, easily the most frightening scene in the whole movie.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and a dozen s-words join a half-dozen uses of “h—” and one or two uses each of “d–n” and “a–hole.” God’s name is misused three times, once in combination with “d–n.” Three exclamations focus on slang for male genitalia. One in-game character flashes a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content


Other Negative Elements

Sorrento brags that if they can gain control of OASIS, IOI can push money-making ads to the point of nearly “inducing player seizure.”


Taking his cues from the popular 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, director Steven Spielberg has shaped Ready Player One as an over-caffeinated sensory explosion. It’s a coming-of-age adventure seen through the hyperactive gaze of a gamer geek obsessed with ’70s and ’80s pop culture.

Therein lie this movie’s pros … and its cons.

Spielberg’s vision of the endlessly shifting and repurposing online world of OASIS is nothing if not entertaining and captivating. It packs in a solid message, too: Hey, get out there and enjoy the real world, we’re told by movie’s end. Or as game inventor Halliday puts it with nerdy flair: “As terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s the only place you can get a decent meal.”

At the same time, this pic is so jam-packed with hurtling CGI action and rapid-fire, profanity-sprinkled, pop-culture references that viewers outside of a game-playing fanboy culture might find themselves hard-pressed to keep up. Some segments—such as a brilliantly staged slice of action in a virtual version of The Shining’s Stanley Hotel—might even compel some viewers to seek out that R-rated horror flick just so they can really understand what happened in this one.

And let’s face it: Ready Player One’s get-out-and-live-a-real-life encouragement is muted by the appealing siren call of Spielberg’s own moviemaking magic. The film is, suitably enough, sort of like a well-made war game—one that warns of the horrors of armed conflict, while glowingly glorifying the bloody battle.

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.