Ready Player One review: Mesmerising, engaging, magical

Ready Player One Rotten Tomatoes Score

This is kind of a cross between "TRON" and "Wreck-It Ralph".

Is Spielberg genuinely trying to recreate the wide-eyed, childlike verve and wonder of his earlier work with this new film? And with "Ready Player One", Spielberg has directed every ounce of his filmmaking mastery, clout and resources to the careful envisioning of this almost unfilmable story, which is largely set in virtual reality.

The film follows Wade Watts, who by his own admission, was named so because his father thought it could be like the alter ego of a superhero like Peter Parker and Bruce Banner. He lives in the slums of Columbus, which is filled with metallic clutter like older cars and technological trash.

It is also home to the world's most stable currency. So most of the time Parzival joins other "gunters" ("Easter Egg" hunters) who seek the prize. Going by the name of OASIS, when the creator, Halliday (Mark Rylance), of this globally-addicted virtual world dies, he releases a video that challenges all its users to find an Easter egg and discover his fortune and, in turn, full control of OASIS. The Oasis looks like a cool place to hang out, where the only limits are your own imagination and, like any video game, the amount of time and energy you've put into powering up your avatar. The source recently interviewed the author and Cline commented, "I've been working on it [second book] this past year, while I was in between visiting the set and helping with post production". Of course he's not the only one on the hunt for these keys.

The victor of the hunt will take control of the OASIS and half a trillion dollars.

Additional Ready Player One cast members include Olivia Cooke as Samantha Cook/Art3mis, Hannah John-Kamen as F'Nale Zandor, Ben Mendelsohn as Nolan Sorrento, T.J. Hell, he helped create and pave the way for numerous references and characters that were in the book. Watts is immediately sympathetic and likeable; his friends and cohorts are equally the same despite their minimal screen time.

The rest of the movie doesn't quite measure up to that sequence, though, settling into a straightforward rebels-versus-bureaucracy narrative we've seen before.

There are two exceptions: A gravity-free dance club where Parzival and love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) flirt and spin in a lovely, candy-colored riff on the famous "Saturday Night Fever" dance, and a key-finding foray into "The Shining". Wade sees it that way, at least, and doesn't seem to realize that he's been duped.

It's also a movie at war with itself, and therein lies its most fascinating element. In fact, numerous changes in "RPO" can be downright jarring.

Meanwhile, Rylance - a Spielberg regular in recent years, having appeared in 2015's "Bridge of Spies", for which he won an Academy Award, and 2016's largely ignored "The BFG" - is distractingly odd as Halliday.

The film is loaded with a chock-full of pop culture references, all of which, surprisingly, help drive the plot forward as opposed to being there for the sake of being there. Both work because they not only cater to different tastes, but are easily digestible for those who might not pick up on every reference. Like nearly everyone else in this economically depressed, aesthetically depraved society, he seeks emotional refuge in the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a virtual-reality game in which one can do anything and be anyone. You're instantly absorbed into this story and this world, so much so that you don't even notice whatever minor flaws the movie has.

The locations were selected as they were relatively unfamiliar to cinema audiences and so made enticing stand-ins for Ready Player One's specific vision of a mid-21st century Ohio.