Aside from being one of the best filmmakers working today, Steven Spielberg is also a master of the “one-for-them, one-for-myself” school; his most notable example came in 1993 with the one-two punch of “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List.”
Following his recent personal movie — the excellent “The Post” — his new “Ready Player One” is one for the masses.
Spielberg, a skilled and fine storyteller, serves up an exhilarating ride as good as or better than most other films of its type.
“Ready Player One,” based on a sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline, isn’t particularly deep, but it knows how to have fun without feeling forced, and it understands that life can be good, and greed is almost always bad.
With the help of another wonderful performance by Mark Rylance, who won an Oscar for Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and played the title role in “The BFG,” it even becomes quite touching.
It’s the year 2045, and the world is a dismal place. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in a shabby place called “the stacks” — grungy trailers piled on top of one another, with his aunt and her lousy boyfriend.
Wade spends his days playing a virtual reality game called The Oasis and learning everything about its father-figure creator, Halliday (Rylance). He’s also after the game’s Easter eggs, three keys that revert control of the game and the massive fortune behind it to the winner.
An evil corporation run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) also wants the keys and has put every resource at its disposal to find them. (However, as with Indiana Jones locating the Holy Grail, the clues have more to do with the characters looking into their hearts and using their wits than they do with using brute force or money.)
Wade, playing under his gamer tag Parzival, travels with pals he hasn’t (yet) met in real life: his best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), brothers Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki) and, of course, the lovely and scrappy Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), who steals his heart.
Their dips in and out of the virtual reality world are a beautiful, swift swirl of color and movement, yet clear and easy to follow.
A nut for 1980s culture, Halliday has filled his game with it; the love spills into real-life culture as well. The movie is jam-packed with music, movies, songs, games, characters and trivia from the era.
It’s fun to spot them. Spielberg goes all out in recreating some of the most memorable nooks and crannies of a particular 1980s movie; it’s awe-inspiring.
Yet theses references may overshadow Spielberg’s main message, and detractors will jump on this like a gamer to a boss battle.
Some already are wondering whether “Ready Player One” will re-establish Spielberg’s tarnished reputation as an entertainer after the expensive failure of “The BFG” and disappointment following “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “The Adventures of Tintin” — even though he delivered the goods in all three cases. Somehow the zeitgeist ganged up on him and turned up its collective nose.
While “Ready Player One” might be demolished by internet commentators, or perform anemically at the box office, viewers who watch it while looking into their hearts are sure to find joy, amazement and awe — all the things that make us human.
Ready Player One
Three and a half stars
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes