Steven Spielberg must have missed the old Steven Spielberg, too.
In “Ready Player One” he conjures so many images from his past you’ll swear this has been sitting on a shelf since “Back to the Future.” It’s packed with Easter eggs and an interesting take on the obsession with virtual reality and the world it could create.
Set in 2045, the film shows just how decayed places have become. Living in trailer houses stacked on top of each other, residents of Toledo, Ohio, find their only joy in escaping to a virtual world called OASIS. Created by a tech genius (Mark Rylance), it’s up for grabs after he dies.
Anyone who can find the keys and unlock his secrets will get the deed. Naturally, there’s an evil corporation (called IOI) that wants control first. It employs plenty of gamers who are charged with bringing home the spoils.
A young player, named Parzival (Tye Sheridan), has the skills but lacks the backing needed to defeat all sorts of hardcore competitors. By retracing the creators’ past, he’s able to figure out the first mystery and jump to the top of the leader board.
That attracts attention and brings him into play with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), a woman with similar skills and determination. They join forces and draw the wrath of Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the man in charge of IOI.
While Spielberg doesn’t mess with the good vs. evil plot, he does toss in plenty of pop culture references that should get trivia teams working overtime just to chart them. The car from “Back to the Future,” the star of “Iron Giant,” Marvin the Martian and just about everyone else (save for many of Spielberg’s creations) exist in OASIS. So much time is spent in the world you wonder if “Ready Player One” could qualify for Best Animated Film next year.
Sheridan, Cooke and Mendelsohn get ample human time but you’ll be straining to figure out who plays some of the other characters; they’re avatar-only. (Yup, that’s T.J. Miller’s voice as I-ROk.)
Knowing how glossy Spielberg can make a film, it’s surprising how flat this appears. It’s as if he’s editorializing about gaming without being too critical. He gets in a few licks about those who spend too much time staring at screens but “WALL-E” was much more pointed. When the two rebel leaders get going, they’re joined by three others and it’s a race to the finish.
While “Ready Player One” runs two hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t seem that long – a credit to Spielberg’s ability to entertain.
Fun, fast and filled with actors you’ve never seen, “Ready Player One” has all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster. The more time you spend with it, the more you’ll get out of it. Like an old arcade game, it gives you a very big bang for your buck.
‘Ready Player One’
Rated: PG-13 for some intense scenes, violence
Bruce’s Take: It’s a fun romp, even though it has a look that’s hardly as glossy as you’d expect.