First Hit: Entertaining visual story into a possible future filled with a decayed reality and virtual fantasy.
Steven Spielberg knows how to create complete stories on the screen. I never leave a Spielberg film with questions, and this film does the same. He always provides a full story. This is one of his strengths and much of the time it is the small details that ties the knot on the bow. Spielberg also knows how to relate with young actors to get the best out of them. However, his obvious strength is the visual rendering of the story in an impressive pictorial way, and he does it again in this film.
This story takes place in 2044 and the world and its resources are falling apart. This is rendered impressively by the vertical stacking of mobile homes in a way that shows both ingenuity of the owners and slum like conditions in which they exist. Most people have given up hope and the few scenes displaying this poverty is enough. To escape their lives, people put on virtual reality (VR) headsets. In their VR world, their lives are given a new level of purpose and dreams. Through their avatars, they can be what they want to be and participate in the games and different worlds as they wish.
Halliday aka Anorak (Mark Rylance) is the creator and maker of the most popular game, Oasis. He’s a bookish man, who does not relate well with people although his business partner Ogden Morrow, aka OG, (Simon Pegg) seems to create a place and space for Halliday to flourish.
Before Halliday’s death, Halliday decides to create a contest that, when a gamer finds the three keys hidden deep within Oasis, the winner will receive the golden egg. This golden egg includes owning and running the company that makes Oasis as well as unfounded riches.
A competitor company IOI (Innovation Online Industries), run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), wants the golden egg so that his lagging company can reap the fruits of Halliday’s work. To do so he hires lots of people to be avatars with one goal; to help him find the three keys and to obtain the golden egg.
The film’s main character and hero is Wade Watts, aka Parzival, (Tye Sheridan) who is smart, kind, thoughtful, and an excellent Oasis player. Wade’s parents died years ago and he lives with his aunt and her wildly erratic husband. In the VR world Parsival’s best friend is Aech, aka Helen, (Lena Waithe). On his trek to find the first key, he helps out Art3mis, aka Samantha, (Olivia Cooke). He does this because he thinks her avatar is beautiful and believes they connect at a deeper level.
Together Parzival, Art3mis, and Aech work to solve the puzzle's problems and find the three keys. Along the way they are joined by other players who carry the same ideals.
This film spends more time in the VR mode than reality mode, however the switches between the worlds was done in a wonderful way. The switches make sense. There are also scenes when there is a belief that a character thinks they’re in reality mode, when they aren’t.
The best part is that the team working with Parzival are strong and interesting in both reality and VR modes. Both worlds created by Spielberg are wonderful in that they are realistically flawed and complete. The visuals are not so overladen and overdone that they overwhelm the film and story.
Sheridan was excellent as Parzival, the films main hero. He makes an excellent Clark Kent type character. Waithe as Aech was so much fun. As a male avatar, she was wonderfully strong and compassionate which reflected her deeper reality character as well. Cooke was great as Art3mis. Her bad-ass avatar character belied her reality character of being insecure. Pegg was wonderful as OG and his kindness carried through the film. Rylance was sublime as the quirky, lost, smart creator of Oasis. His social ineptness was perfect. Mendelsohn was very good as the villain running IOI and wanting to be the top dog. Zak Penn and Ernest Cline wrote and engaging screenplay effectively rendered by the inimitable Spielberg.
Overall: This is a film the audience can sit back and simply enjoy the ride.