What We Liked (And Didn’t Like) About Ready Player One

What We Liked (And Didn’t Like) About Ready Player One

A giant pile of nerd references masquerading as a movie, Ready Player One, premiered last night. Seung Park, Tim Rogers and I all watched it, and now they’re going to talk about it.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Gita Jackson: Hey Seung, Tim. Last night we all watched the new Spielberg movie Ready Player One, based on the best selling Ernest Cline novel. I think we all have some capital O opinions on it. Let’s get this out of the way — I really did not enjoy this movie at all. What about you two?

Seung Park: I think I enjoyed it a bit more than you did, although I can definitely see why you wouldn’t. Before we delve into any deeper discussion, can I just say that I let out probably the biggest squeal in the theatre when I saw the Serenity from Firefly?

Gita: Oh man, is that in this movie? Oh geeze.

Tim Rogers: I enjoyed the first half of it way more than I thought I would — I have read the first half of the book and had a somewhat unpleasant experience. The last half I didn’t like so much. Though man, it had some great graphics.

Seung: Oh yeah, the graphics were amazing. I saw it in IMAX 3D and it was definitely worth the extra money to see all of those colours really pop.

Tim: Yeah, some of the particle effects in the CG were legitimately incredible, absolute top-tier stuff. This is not at all a joke, by the way. Whenever stuff blew up or crumbled it was like, wow, I would really, really be into a game that had particle effects like that.

Gita: Honestly, the CG looked incredible. Spielberg, fundamentally, is a great director who can put together a movie. I just have a lot of problems with Cline’s work, and Spielberg did not make those problems go away. Before we get too far into this, let’s set up the plot of the movie.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Tim: I spent half the film thinking up taglines for an imaginary trailer. So here is the perfect time for me to use this one: “What if Wreck-It Ralph……had the F-Word in it… exactly once?” There…I am done with that.

Gita: Ready Player One takes place in a dystopic near future where everyone spends all their time in a VR simulation game called Oasis. The creator of Oasis, a guy called Halliday, left a bunch of easter eggs in the game for people to find based on his life and his knowledge of specific kinds of 80s pop culture. If you find these three keys based on the easter eggs, you get his majority stake of shares in the company that runs Oasis.

Wade Watts is a teenager who is trying to find the easter eggs, known in this world as a “gunter” and you know, hilarity ensues. So yeah, it’s Wreck-It Ralph, with the f-word in it exactly once.

Tim: Kaboom.

Seung: That’s a good way to put it. Although Wreck-It Ralph has some semblance of character development.

Gita: Wow, zing!

Seung: I mean… Spielberg tried? In the movie, Wade kind of grows as a character (a very little bit), going from a teen who just wants to win for the money to slowly coming over to the character Artemis’ point of view, which is that the Oasis needs to be protected and defended from people like Bad Evil Dude In Suit. The problem is, the movie doesn’t spend nearly enough time building up that relationship, so that whole change of heart kind of comes out of nowhere.

Gita: I think this points out my fundamental issue with the movie, which is that when you boil it down, it’s about a group of teenagers trying to protect the interests of one giant corporation from another giant corporation.

Tim: Wade wants to own the company. He packages his desires romantically, because he’s a teenager, and not a child who found a Golden Ticket. Halliday is an Anti-Wonka, whose game is a massive inverse Golden Ticket.

Gita: It always veers close to making a statement about nostalgia, or corporatism, or about living your life online… and then it course corrects and is like “actually, all those things are ok.”

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Tim: Yeah, that weirded me out and made me a little sad. There’s a part where Evil Suit Guy who is the CEO of the evil corporation IOI, which is trying to take over Oasis, is talking to Wade and trying to convince him to work for his evil corporation by making references to things Wade likes. But he doesn’t actually know them, he has a guy feeding him 80s references via an ear piece.

I was like, “Wow, this is something the movie is on the verge of doing something genuinely great with.”

Gita: Ethan Gach, who also saw this last night, said something like, “This is what the Arby’s Twitter account is like.”

Seung: See, the book ends a little differently, and I think I might prefer that ending. I have the book in front of me so I’m just gonna quote the last line: “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS.”

Tim: Shoot!

Gita: Wow! That is so much better!

Seung: Right?? And Artemis and Wade only meet for the first time in the last four pages of the novel which I vastly, vastly prefer.

Tim: That is pretty much him saying, “Actually games suck lol.” I felt that it was pretty weird that they met so early. It felt wrong. It was timed way too soon after his aunt just died. It felt sorta sour. Then later in the movie, he’s like, “You killed my mum’s sister!”

Seung: I think that moment didn’t land, because we got all of… what, 30 seconds with his aunt? And we never really got a good look at Wade’s life pre-movie in the Stacks.

Tim: I gotta say though, seeing Ralph Ineson aka The Second-Best Voice In The World as Wade’s Mum’s Sister’s Boyfriend was kinda cool. That guy owned it so hard in The Witch.

Gita: In general, the movie felt like certain scenes were copied and pasted around a couple of times. That one scene where the Bad Corporate Boss is talking to his Evil Sexy Assistant about the Loyalty Centres is just so, so bizarre. Not only did I have no idea what they were talking about, it felt like I had been suddenly transported into a different movie.

Seung: I didn’t really have a problem with that part. I think we got enough context for the audience to go, “Oh, hm, that is happening now, OK.”

Tim: Yeah, there’s, uh, some things that irk me in films. I feel like this film didn’t earn the casual attitude applied to calling that neighbourhood “The Stacks.” It felt like the actors felt uncomfortable calling it that. Also, any movie that has the word “gunter” in it more than zero times should be rated NC-17.

Gita: The whole crapsack dystopia is treated so casually when the world is actually in a very dire place and that was…. real weird.

Seung: The dystopian element of the book was really, really, really toned down in the movie.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Tim: Like, and this is a world with a dead trillionaire in it. Why wasn’t he helping anybody? Well, he wasn’t helping anybody because he was a weirdo. I like how weird the weirdo was! Mark Rylance did a good weirdo. Again, there’s almost a statement there re: this guy being a weird weirdo and that not being cool at all.

I feel like there must have been a statement in the book re: the dystopia thing and this guy being weird. Uh, was there?

Gita: In the movie, we get a brief scene where Simon Pegg tries to tell the weird guy that he has a social responsibility to the world when he’s made something that the entire world will rely on, and he brushes it off, and then later buys out Simon Pegg’s shares to force him out of the company. The movie treats this as a huge mistake. That was actually neat, but again, the actual plot of the movie undercuts that commentary.

What does Wade do when he wins? He gets a girl and a big apartment, and turns off the Oasis two days a week. That’s his big charitable gesture. With the resources of this company that owns what is canonically the world’s most vital economic resource, he just tells people to go outside more. He has the money to solve world hunger.

Tim: Yeah, him telling people to go outside is kinda gross because we’ve seen that outside is disgusting.

Seung: I’m trying to remember what Wade did with the with the winnings in the book. I have a major problem with the last third of the movie. Especially the way the main challenge, and the driving force of the entire plot, was just kind of… brushed aside to focus on real-world stories. Like, what even was the Crystal Key? What was the challenge?

It just devolved into a big battle for REASONS (which, don’t get me wrong, was awesome and kind of my nerd fantasy come to life).

Tim: Finding the middle challenge was like a whole part of the story. And then they’re just like, “IOI has found the third challenge!” And we’re like, oh, ok. The plot went straight into hurry mode there.

Gita: Well, Spielberg needed to deliver all those sweet, sweet references.


Gita: And yeah, the CG did look fucking slick in that ice mountain battle. But what purpose did that serve? It was just Reference Time.

Tim: It served the purpose of making me stand and applaud so hard I dropped my Coke Zero on the floor. That’s a joke; my Coke Zero was empty at that point (I had to go to the bathroom so bad).

Seung: Speaking of, we need to count the number of Overwatch characters that appeared in this movie.

Gita: I need to lay down.

Tim: Tracer was in there! I know her! Ryu! Chun Li!!!!!!

Seung: Hahaha. I mean, let’s face it, we can criticise plot points and character motivations of this movie all we want, but at the end of the day, I am a guy that literally bounced in my seat for joy when the Gundam jumped off the Serenity to fight Mecha Godzilla alongside the Iron Giant, so.

Yes, there is a Gundam in this movie.Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Gita: Let’s talk about the Iron Giant for a second.

Seung: Let’s!

Gita: By let’s talk, I mean, I am going to talk about the one moment in the film where I shouted out loud, “Are you fucking kidding me?” The Iron Giant is a beautiful film with a strong, not very subtle pacifist message. It’s very emotionally affecting and is definitely beloved for a reason. I still get emotional think about the film’s final moments. In Ready Player One, the Iron Giant is reduced to a giant robot that fights other giant robots.

In the movie where that character first appears, the literal entire point is that he does not want to fight, he doesn’t want to be a weapon of war. Topping this all off, when the reference has served its purpose, he melts into a moat of lava while giving a thumbs up, like in Terminator 2. He becomes a reference to another reference. I think that was the only moment when I truly hated this movie.

You can’t just throw shit at the screen and be like, “Look at this shit!” That shit has meaning and context. In Ready Player One, it’s all just playgrounds and toys.

Seung: I agree and disagree with you there. I do think the way the Iron Giant was treated in the movie was definitely ham-handed (and of course I groaned at the Terminator reference), but this is a movie that’s basically the literal equivalent of grabbing all of your old action figures and chucking them at each other.

Your last sentence, which I think you meant as a criticism, is actually why I think this movie kind of succeeds — it’s a playground where all of our nostalgia comes to life. I mean, let’s be real, if I had an action figure of the Iron Giant when I was 10… you bet your arse I would be pretending it was a battle robot and fighting my imaginary bad guy army of monkeys in a barrel.

Tim: I saw a tweet going around about how they probably spent more money promoting the Iron Giant’s appearance in this film than was spent promoting the actual film The Iron Giant when it came out. I guess that says it all.

Gita: I just have literally no interest in watching a movie of mashing action figures together. It sometimes felt like this:

Seung: I want to give a tip of the hat to the film for getting rid of the urge to shoehorn every 80s reference like Kline did in the book. The novel felt like, at times, Kline was just trying to prove to the world just how much he knew about 80s pop culture (especially the second key, which if my memory serves correctly, was literally the protagonist repeating, word-for-word, a scene from an 80s movie).

And I actually think the second key in the movie — the one with all of the Shining references — did a pretty good job in subverting that. Like, we see the door and the room, and immediately we think the challenge has to be something Shining-related, but it’s not. It’s just an elaborate decoy to hide the true challenge.

Tim: I have read the entirety of that infamous first chapter of the book, which contains just a massive list of references. I read it aloud to my friends and we laughed. The movie definitely was not that.

Gita: I’m not gonna lie, seeing the Overlook Hotel did kind of get me. Just like Spielberg I am a big fan of Kubrick. I think it is extremely creepy to have a shrine to your friend’s dead wife hidden in your video game, but that sequence was kinda fun until it became a Shining-themed video game.

I’m just glad that my appreciation of this movie didn’t have to depend on knowing a Rush reference or something.

Tim: Oh man, Gita! Do you remember when I solved the puzzle before the characters?! I have never felt so smart in a movie. The “Creator who hates his creation” thing made me think of Stephen King hating The Shining, and I turned to Gita and said “The Shining?” And I was right! I promise I didn’t know that was gonna happen.

Gita: Seung, how do you think Tim would do as a gunter?

Seung: It depends. Can we make a video out of it?

Tim: Look, my mum thinks I’m already a gunter, so we can’t prove her right.


  • It seems massively popular to hate on this book and movie at the moment, because reasons. The modern internet (and so called journalism) things are either AMAZEBALLS THE GREATEST THING EVER!!! or THIS IS SHIT! EVERYONE HATE IT!!! there is nothing in-between.

    I read the book, thought it was good. I saw the movie last night and really enjoyed it. I get the impression that people complaining about it not being deep enough in its exploration of themes, characters and the world seem to be judging either against a) longer forms of entertainment that are common now (Netflix/HBO series) or b) against tightly focused pieces that don’t have to cram an entire universe into a 2 and half hour movie.

    TLDR – Its an enjoyable movie, go in expecting a teenage adventure movie with pop culture references and you should enjoy it. Go in expecting the greatest thing ever, and you might come out sour.

    • Nah, fuck that. If I’m going to spend two hours on my arse sitting still in the dark with strangers, it won’t be so Hollywood can monetise my nostalg— IS THAT THE IRON GIANT IN THAT SCREENSHOT?
      I fucking love the Iron Giant!!!

    • Yeah, nah. The reason why I don’t enjoy it is best covered in Demi’s song. It’s literally just a list of things you know, and then a title at the end. Wowsers.

  • Ok…this is a response to Gita re: The Iron Giant: You do realize the Iron Giant himself isn’t actually in Ready Player One, that it’s an Iron Giant shaped mecha Aech is piloting…and is even clearly referenced as having built directly earlier in the movie.

    During the scene you’re talking about, you’re seeing Aech pilot an Iron Giant shaped mecha, so blasting baddies and doing corny T2 references is actually in character…for Aech.

    Given the game is a big VR sim, it’s kind of obvious that the various appererances are not the actual characters. So even when you can “climb everest with Batman”…it’s just a game NPC version of Batman.

    When a character uses a Gundam, that’s still that character controlling it, he’s not calling about Hiro Yui or Amuro Ray.

    TBH, so I have to say it feels really foolish to say “But the Iron Giant wouldn’t do that!”…because like I said above, the character literally isn’t in the film.

    • The character isn’t, but the core problem is that most fans of The Iron Giant would recognise who that character is, and in turn, because they love the film, wouldn’t use him as a weapon. In the book, it wasn’t The Iron Giant, so the problem then becomes that they simply used the Iron Giant in the movie because they could get the rights to him.

      My main issue with Ready Player One is that it presents a world where simply knowing the ‘thing’ is enough. It’s ok if you’ve forgotten why you liked the ‘thing’ in the first place, just as long as you remember that it’s a ‘thing’.

  • (I know this will be moderated or removed due to being deemed a “personal attack on the writers”, but try taking this as honest feedback please.)

    I know that this film is not for everyone, and personal opinion and the right to write about it is all fine and dandy; but this trend is getting a bit rediculous. I understand that the references were a bit full on, and that the book had a lot of changes because of film runtime and all that. But a lot of people enjoyed it, so why is it the most negative side of things gets published all the time? How about balance articles with things people can enjoy about Ready Player One and other things?

    When I read articles like this I wonder how a lot of these people, especially Gina, got their jobs working on websites that are very “nerd centric” since they come off hating anything and everything to do with nerdish culture.

    Gina straight up hates the movie and the book, so why was she sent to review the film? Then you have Tim, who has read the first chapter of the book, now spending just as much time as Gina hating on it. The only one who seemed to actually enjoy themselves was Seung, who read the book and put aside personal opinions and just enjoyed the visuals for what they were.

    • I feel like you’re putting up the “it’s a marvel movie, what did you expect” argument here, and I think that’s not what ‘nerd culture’ (let’s be real, its basically just mainstream pop culture now) should be about.

      Nolan’s Batman films were bloody great. I loved the first Iron Man. I’ve been bored by almost every Marvel film I’ve seen since and won’t bother with any DC films after what they did to Watchmen (namely handing it to Snyder). You can have a ‘fun’ movie that’s also a ‘good’ movie, and I think anyone who’s invested in or employed to discuss ‘nerd culture’ wants that. If they see a movie that disappointed in this regard that’s not a sign they hate ‘nerd culture’, but rather want something more from it, something better.

      There’s nothing wrong with liking a film that lacks in the areas critics value most, if you loved Watchmen power to you, but I want and hope for more. That’s what I want from the critics, to criticise films in order to guide the filmmakers, writers etc. to something better in the future. We might be seeing that with Marvel making their very first interesting villain in Killmonger (unless you count capitalism as a villain in the first Iron Man that is), and that’s what more of these films could be – interesting beyond the pretty visuals.

    • “How about balance articles with things people can enjoy about Ready Player One and other things? […] I wonder how a lot of these people, especially Gina, got their jobs working on websites that are very “nerd centric” since they come off hating anything to do with nerdish culture”

      Oh, the Gatekeeper has arrived. So, let’s say the site LIKES a game or movie. You think they have to then post an article by somebody who hates it? Instead, maybe you should get over yourself and keep the “balance” in your own mind, if you like a thing and another human being doesn’t like it.

      There’s a visible division between “nerds who automatically LOVE ANYTHING that is officially corporate-branded as nerdy” and nerds who actually sincerely genuinely like things and dislike other things. It’s the difference between a conformist docile person and a thoughtful independent person.

      A brief look at Gita’s and Tim’s post history shows many, many things that they like. So the only person whose nerd credentials should be questioned is you, since all you’re after is for other people to publicly validate your own personal opinions and emotions. Which isn’t nerd culture, that’s just cheerleading. Being a nerd doesn’t mean being the street swag team for a $200 million movie. Being a nerd doesn’t mean questioning somebody’s job and True Faith because they criticized a supposedly nerdy thing.

      BASIC MATH: you’re saying that what happened isn’t “balanced” because 1 person liked it, 1 person disliked it, and another person hated(?) it. There’s 3 people. Would you prefer that one person was middle of the road? Do you need everything to be Goldilocks and the 3 Bears? Or maybe you think one person should have split personalities, 50% of the person liked it and 50% of the person didn’t? Explain to us your idea of what balance looks like. You just hallucinated an imbalance, because it didn’t sway decisively in favor of your positive opinion. Similar hallucination as when you were talking about the Trend of People Criticizing the movie, when this is a single article on a single website. It’s not up to this article to speak to the imagined negative consensus you’re mad about. And at the same time you say “most people enjoyed it” you say “why is it getting negativity all the time”. Are you not aware of this cognitive dissonance? ALSO SEE:, “EVERYBODY LOVES ME. Why are people saying bad things about me? This makes no sense!” Something is wrong in your supposition about “most people enjoyed it” if professional writers who think about the meaning and value of movies/games for a living have bad things to say about it. Or I guess you just mean, “The people who like it are inherently more worthy than the people who didn’t like it, because they are more numerous!”

      It should be the defining feature of the nerd to have no problem with art that other people hate or overlook. To not care about consensus. You want validation, which isn’t nerdy, it’s just weird, although it’s a defining feature of online “nerds” today.

  • Saw it a few nights ago with a few mates and we all thought it was great. I’m that unabashed nerd that loves to point out references & loves the nostalgia, but if you’re not into that whole aspect I can see why people don’t like it because it’s pretty shallow when you really look at the film. Still I had a lot of fun with it (especially with the second challenge) & would still recommend it.

  • I read the book and enjoyed it for what it was. It was goofy, lighthearted, nostalgia-filled fluff.

    If the movie is this, that sounds good to me.

    But what would I know? I enjoyed The Last Jedi!

  • I thought the movie was awesome, the only thing i didn’t like though was all the iterations of characters were the latest versions of them – for instance only the new ninja turtles were shown – this is not what it would be like as users would choose their favourite version of the characters

    • all the iterations of characters were the latest versions of them

      And in a movie set in 2044 all the pop culture was pre-2018. What happened in 2018 brought popular culture to a crashing halt? Cline got past this by limiting all his references to the 80s, and explained that with Halliday’s obsession with the decade. The movie doesn’t.

      (and yes, I know this was addressed in another article, but it annoyed me)

  • So in summary – You don’t like all the pop culture references and they didn’t use the ones you remember in the “correct way”. Way to be the archetypal smug nerds.

  • “What if Wreck-It Ralph……had the F-Word in it… exactly once?”

    Or alternatively “What if Kotaku didn’t have a clue how the rating PG-13 worked at all?”

    PG-13 allows you *one*, count ’em, one F bomb. Any more, and that rating gets moved up to the next tier, which is R, restricted to those above 17 unless accompanied by an adult.

    • My niece wants a PG-13 Deadpool movie, where he saves that One Time F-bomb the whole movie, only for a Wolverine cameo near the end use it.

      She’s a little strange, but I’d laugh.

  • I really liked the book, it’s not the best thing ever but i found it enjoyable and I’m not sure why everyone hates on it these days because when i first read it everyone i knew who read it also enjoyed it.

    For me it was a good solid movie but it didn’t blow me away and they had a few things changed from the book that i thought didn’t need to be changed or ended up being a bit silly and possible plot holey in the movie. They had some changes that worked better as well and some of the changes had to happen to fit it into a movie run time without feeling bloated.

    What i didn’t expect was my girlfriend who has not read the book and does not play video games to like the movie more than me, she thought it was the best movie she’s seen this year which was a surprise so maybe my expectations from the book clouded how i saw the movie a bit.

    I keep seeing people mention the nostalgia cashing in (like the intro to this kotaku article too mention it’s just a pile of nerd references) but I didn’t feel the movie did that at all, they went light on the trivia stuff the book is full of and most of the cameo appearances are just back ground characters or back ground art in scenes that aren’t forced down your throat or anything.

  • Gita, I think you mean “dystopia” not “dystopic”. We all know what youmean but it’s a lot less jarring when you use recognised words.

  • No one would be criticizing this movie if millions (thousands?) of gatekeeper nerds didn’t show how toxic and psychotic they were during gamergate years ago and now with toxic racist sexist youtube and twitter today.

    Oops. That was people doing evil not while waving a flag (as traditionally) but while waving around their action figures and anime-face profile icons. Now some people rightfully have to stop for a moment and think beyond the surface layer of a story like “the ONE TRUE chosen one, the ultimate TRUE FAITH NERD rises above ALL OTHER PRETENDERS because he KNOWS ALL THE TRIVIA and he vanquishes all enemies in THRILLING COMBAT”. We saw what some peoples psyches were made of…..it’s movies like this, partly. The monster came from a corner of nerd-dom.

Log in to comment on this story!