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With: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen
Written by: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on a novel by Ernest Cline
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Running Time: 140
Date: 03/29/2018

Ready Player One (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In the Game of the Father

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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 of filmmaking; his most notable example came in 1993 with the one-two punch of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List.

Following his recent personal one, the excellent The Post, his new Ready Player One is one for the masses. But Spielberg is so skilled and such a fine storyteller that it's an exhilarating ride as good as or better than most other films of its type.

Ready Player One is not 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 in places.

It's the year 2045, and the world is a dismal place. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in a shabby place called "the stacks," i.e. grungy trailers piled on top of one another, with his aunt and her lousy boyfriend.

Wade spends his days playing a virtual reality game, The Oasis, and learning everything about its father-figure creator, Halliday (Rylance). He is also after the game's "Easter eggs," three keys that, once found, 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 involve looking into your heart and using your wits more than they do brute force or money.

Wade, playing under his gamer tag Parzival, travels with a crew of friends that he hasn't (yet) met in real life. There are 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 perfectly clear and easy to follow.

A nut for 1980s culture, Halliday has filled his game with it, and this love has spilled out into real-life culture as well; the movie is jam-packed with music, movies, songs, games, characters, and other trivia from the era.

It might be fun to list some of them, but it's more fun to spot them. For one sequence, referencing one specific 1980s movie, Spielberg goes all-out in recreating some of its more memorable nooks and crannies; it's rather awe-inspiring.

Unfortunately, it's possible that these various references will draw too much attention and overshadow the actual thing that Spielberg is trying to get at here, and detractors will jump on this like a gamer to a boss battle.

Indeed, there has already been talk about whether or not Ready Player One will re-establish Spielberg's tarnished reputation as an entertainer after the expensive failure of The BFG and the general disappointment behind both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Adventures of Tintin.

However, any disappointment surrounding those films is external only; Spielberg certainly delivered the goods in all three cases, but somehow the zeitgeist ganged up on him and turned up its collective nose.

Perhaps this filmmaker has been at it for so long that viewers are starting to recognize his toolbox and the way he uses it. Perhaps people aren't as easily impressed after a string of constant quality. Those who dine on three-star Michelin meals every day will eventually start to complain; it's human nature.

However, this doesn't take away from Spielberg's actual, exceptional skill. Ready Player One could be demolished by internet commentators or come away with anemic box office, but those that actually watch it while looking into their hearts are sure to find joy, amazement, awe, and all the things that make us human.

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