Ready Player One: Life in virtual reality

Who’s ready for an Easter egg hunt?

Director Steven Spielberg is back with his most ambitious film in close to a decade, giving the pop culture obsessed ample opportunity to ooh and aah an obvious and obscure references from movies, music and video games.

Based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name, “Ready Player One” is a high-octane action adventure film that crams so much information and detail into a little over two hours that a second screening may be necessary to catch even 75 percent of the film’s hidden content.

Spielberg’s film is both a celebration and critique of society’s increasing reliance on technology to transform and/or take over our lives. The dazzling visual flurry on screen is both amazing and emotionally draining, often to the point of excess.

“Ready Player One” follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young man born into a near post-apocalyptic future who like everyone else lives out his days in a virtual reality world known as “The Oasis.”

Following the death of the technology’s creator, Wade and a group of friends he’s never met in person race against an evil corporation to find a hidden Easter egg that gives the possessor ultimate control of the virtual world.

The film’s acting performances are solid across the board. Sheridan and Olivia Cooke have genuine chemistry despite a thinly painted romance and Wade’s best friend Aech is a spectacularly developed character worthy of their own story.

While Ben Mendlesohn’s villainous Sorrento is largely one note, fellow veteran character actor and Oscar winner Mark Rylance melts into the role of “The Oasis” founder Halliday.

Played both as a young man and an older recluse, Rylance’s Halliday has a nuanced eccentricity that helps propel the film’s main mystery while also serving as the emotional center point.

His ability to balance emotional distance with an unspeakable sadness makes Rylance one of the main reasons “Ready Player One” elevates itself beyond genre fodder.

After spending close to a decade focusing on procedural historical dramas, Spielberg goes back to what he does best: dazzling audiences with an inventive, innovative blockbuster.

Perhaps the best thing about Spielberg’s direction is how nostalgic it feels, harkening back to the days where a ridiculous adventure was just simply fun. Despite how technically difficult “Ready Player One” must have been to make, the whole thing feels so easy and effortless, signs of a true cinematic master.

The film occasionally follows life on the outside, though the vast majority of “Ready Player One” is spent in “The Oasis,” designed by highly nuanced computer graphics featuring motion-capture performances from the lead actors.

The intricacy in detail from the obscure characters floating in the background of scenes to the technical wizardry behind individual skin patterns and strands of hair flowing in the wind is downright incredible.

Computer-generated features in this genre rarely receive recognition as contenders for best animated film awards. “Ready Player One” can easily be the exception to this rule and would definitely be worthy for the technical achievements of the film alone.

Devoted pop culture enthusiasts will likely spend hours upon hours watching “Ready Player One” frame by frame hoping to catch a glimpse and then catalog every secret clue and hidden gem Spielberg and his team crammed in to the movie’s nooks and crannies.

Casual viewers should still stay entertained even if they don’t get some of the film’s secondary references. “Ready Player One” has a highly engaging, thrill ride style of a storyline that will keep most audiences on the edge of their seat.

It’s still early in the year, but there’s no question that “Ready Player One” could sneak its way on to any number of Best of 2018 lists, which makes it a must see on the biggest screen possible.

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