Ready Player One, B+
Rated PG-13, 135 minutes
The new action-adventure film "Ready Player One" is everything you expect it to be: thrilling, magical and exciting. Based on Ernest Cline's best-selling novel of the same name, it's briskly-paced and perfectly combines both science-fiction and gaming, though you don't have to be geek or nerd to enjoy it. It also proves that after all these years, Spielberg still has some magic touch left.
Set in 2045, the world is on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, in full quirky mode). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world, including the ruthless and wealthy Nolan Serrento (Emmy-winner Ben Mendelsohn), who plans on seizing control of OASIS. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts ("X-Men: Apocalypse's" Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.
Entertaining and a rush of colorful visuals and pop-culture nods, "Ready Player One" is a winning adaptation of Cline's novel. Cline, who co-writes the screenplay with "The Avengers'" Zak Penn, helps mix some of the fun of the novel (all the pop-culture nods, especially the raucous '80's music, with everything from Van Halen to Twisted Sister to Blondie, will especially please older crowd members) along with some powerful reminders of when reality and fantasy collide.
In addition to a solid story and source material, it helps that "Ready Player One" is grounded by an appealing cast, including Sheridan, who gives the film some heart and soul, as well as "Thoroughbreds" Olivia Cooke as his spunky sidekick. Watch for Simon Pegg, in a small yet key role as one of the games' co-founder, as well as Emmy-winner Lena Waithe, who has a few good scenes as key player on Wade's team. However, with the cast of this size in a big film like this, there are a couple who are bound to be less effective.
First, is Mendelsohn's Serrento; he does a serviceable job, but Spielberg can't quite get a good grasp on if he wants him to be truly evil or simply childish and played for laughs, and it seems to comes across as just too tame. Second, is Rylance's (Spielberg's go-to guy since he won an Oscar for "Bridge of Spies") Halliday; he lacks the innocence of the book and seems too quirky in an actor-ish way, and like Mendolsohn, he's not terrible, but executed differently than you might expect.
Outside of those minor casting flaws, "Ready Player One" keeps moving along quite nicely, even through an extended last act that goes on a tad too long. It's an enjoyable ride, for gamers and non-gamers alike, plenty with of amusing pop-culture nods, including a "Zemeckis Cube" that turns back time a minute, which comes in handy during a big battle scene, not to mention scores of others, too many to name here ("The Shining" sequence is well-played as is Iron Giant and Mechagodzilla).
Spielberg has directed some award-winning classics over the years, including "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial" and "Jurassic Park," among others, and while the satisfying, fun "Ready Player One" may not achieve the status of those films, it's definitely one of his most crowd-pleasing, and the best action film in some time not to feature a Marvel character. Well worth your time.