Neil Bahadur’s review published on Letterboxd:
"It's not about winning - it's about playing."
To say that Ready Player One finally achieves beyond the promise we see in Tintin in regards to Spielberg's use of animation and CGI would be an understatement: this is much more than a CG VR camera expanding the possibilities of where the camera can go, shots that we cannot get in reality, long takes that would be impossible, etc. This extends the approach so far to the point where the film takes place within an online, VR world, with actors spending most of their time in mo-cap suits and directed by Spielberg via a floating virtual camera, essentially extending the core functions of how this films vision of the future looks all the way down to the production level. Because one of the films central ideas is that *literally* virtual reality essentially replaces our known reality itself, this is a vision of the future where one fights for control of both reality and the future (in this film, the future of the future!) within the virtual itself, because our own landscape has been eroded to the point of no return. It's the rare film (alongside this years First Man) that almost genuinely requires the immersive experience - can you really get lost in this world without IMAX 3D? Ready Player One is far from critique - I think it's plausible that among reasons many critics and colleagues disliked it is because it's the rare science-fiction picture which is not dystopian. But to my mind, alongside with the vividness of the films ideas, its remarkable formal thoroughness and innovations, and it's conclusive pro-technology standpoint, this is why the film is very special. Or rather, the critique isn't of the virtual, but of the real. By 2045, the question isn't whether or not reality exists (it definitely does, lol) but rather, if it even matters anymore.
Even with the dime-store narrative (and I would also argue that the critical fury towards the references are based on presumptions via the book, whereas they are being used more conceptually here), what Spielberg has managed to do here is construct a tangible vision of the future, where the virtual has as much presence (and is as tangible) as the real - not a metaphor for the present a la so much of science fiction, but a hypothetical vision of a future based on our present relationship towards the virtual. Until the movie's later sections (which oddly, seem to be the most criticized) what's most interesting about Ready Player One isn't as much the plot and character delineations but rather how this world works itself, and as such, significant time is devoted to showing us how it works. "Reality," as we know it (or at least would in 2045) is almost ponderously mundane and depressing, dominated only by poverty and corporations - the latter who mostly spends their time studying pop culture references to have a one-up on Halliday's vision, while the former mostly spends their time within Halliday's game itself, both as escape from this horrible reality but also because it offers a kind of freedom and equality which cannot be expected anymore from a world hopelessly lost.
Halliday's own relationship towards the corporate is unique and special itself - a totally harmless dork who is so shy that they can't even kiss a girl in a world of vultures - he's the ultimate innocent, granting ownership to his OASIS to anyone who find his Easter Egg after finding three keys hidden around a world based on his own mind - after all, the artificial cannot create itself, even by 2045. There's even something of the author versus the corporate within this project - the villain even eerily resembles Bob Iger (lowkey - how much of this movie is really Spielberg coming through for his boy George Lucas? This even resembles Lucas more than Spielberg on every aesthetic & thematic level, and it's the closest ILM has worked with a director since Lucas himself), the key difference being that ultimately what Halliday wants is a responsible and benevolant owner, because if we are to live in a world where ownership is ultimately fixed as a principle function of our modern world, then having a moral standpoint is absolutely necessary.
The last third of Ready Player One is essentially set-piece after set-piece - and why not? All of the films principle concerns have been set-up, both within the film and perhaps more importantly - as the film itself! Halliday has morals, but he is also an innovator - one that knows the world is broken, and makes a digital space to fix it. His world is a fully immersive one which nevertheless works by goals and keys, mental flexes, exploring ones mind to find answers to which bring on the next adventure. Win the game, win the world. Win the virtual, win reality. The kids take back the world by applying the processes they have learned through Halliday's OASIS to the world itself - which it turns out, isn't much different. They just have less freedom. But now they have the tools to win it back. This becomes pivotal in the near-climatic war sequence (of course it isn't climatic, because of course the lead has to play Adventure...which of course he's not supposed to win, but find the Easter Egg) - a massive MMORPG VR experience we're lead through by Spielberg himself.
The thrill in this war sequence isn't just the sequence itself (which is more or less Tintin territory) but that this "virtual" is cross-cut with "reality" - you can only cross-cut time and/or space, but these events are taking place at the exact same time, so clearly the two sequences taking place at once are cutting merely through space. But the 2nd space is a totally virtual, distinctly "non-real" one! CGI and the human, the animated and the filmed - under these circumstances, if a VR world is to exist then CGI does not show us what the future might be or appear as, but is the future itself.
Nevertheless, even though I initially engaged with this film on a almost purely technical level, it becomes far more touching to me as time goes on. Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," is corny as shit when I first watched the movie, still kind of is, and is genuinely moving when I watch it now - Ready Player One is basically Steven Spielberg's Rebel Without A Cause, about kids saving the future of the future. It's also hard to notice because of how packed the film is, but once we see the characters finally meet outside of their avatars, it's an entirely multi-racial cast - one of them is even the opposite gender than their online persona. But now, is that the "persona" or who you choose to be? It's very touching to see these people who know each other only over the internet, and more importantly having established their closest interpersonal bonds over the internet, finally meeting within "the world," and essentially taking back their rights. They meet through the media they love, cos-play them in a virtual world (never be ashamed of your influences!) and show us that team-gameplay is as interpersonal as real life. If reality fails, then the digital will be the new home. But the goal isn't to hide - once Perceval gets the Easter Egg in the films ending we learn that we win the digital not to cope with reality, but to save it. As Jpdiaz wrote on this website: "if acceleration is the weapon of choice, you better have friends and prepare to say goodbye to the past--for good." Ready Player One looks possibly absurd today, but there is little doubt in my mind that history will be very kind to it.
And of course Renoir loved Close Encounters. As he wrote in The River: "The world is for children..."