For those of the millennial set who thought the great director Steven Spielberg — he of “Jurassic Park,” the “Indiana Jones” films and “E.T.” — was but a myth, given that he’s passed on more frivolous fare in recent years to tackle subjects such as the Pentagon Papers (“The Post”) and the Civil War (“Lincoln”), meet one of the men who taught a generation to love movies.
Spielberg returns to the fun in “Ready Player One,” a film based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline. The fast-paced adventure recalls the whimsy and wonder that Spielberg produced in movies such as “Jurassic Park.”
There is, however, a significant difference for those who’ve grown accustomed to the work in his more serious phase, which arguably began in earnest in 1993 with “Schindler’s List,” his cinematic masterpiece that won Oscars for best picture and best director. He doesn’t abandon asking relevant questions.
On its surface, “Ready Player One” is a romp through virtual reality. Scratch a little more and audiences will receive a rumination on our connected society that questions what damage is being done to the social fabric by technology.
“RPO” follows the adventures of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, Cyclops in “X-Men: Apocalypse”), a Columbus, Ohio-area teen, who lives in an America where want — want for food, want for suitable shelter, want for happiness — represents the norm. He lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in a trailer park where the mobile homes are stacked above one another.
Despite much of society finding itself in similar situations, everyone finds a way to log into the Oasis, a virtual world where you can be what you want to be and, mentally, you’re a million miles from reality.
The masterminds behind this technological terror — James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) — have little idea what they have wrought until it’s too late. Upon Halliday’s death, we learn there is an unusual solution to solving who will ultimately have control of the Oasis, one that ol’ Willy Wonka would be proud.
He leaves three clues that lean heavily on knowledge of 1980s pop culture. Crack the code and control of the Oasis is yours. But it isn’t just individuals who seek to own the tech.
Innovative Online Industries (IOI), a corporation with plans to completely monetize the Oasis, assembles an entire department dedicated to winning Halliday and Morrow’s creation.
Wade, with the help of a group of friends, realizes it’s up to them to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Spielberg asks salient questions of the day regarding technology all while questioning the role of corporations in controlling it. It’s not difficult to interpret “Ready Player One” as an argument for net neutrality, a policy that favored an open internet that the Federal Communications Commission recently voted to repeal.
However, a plethora of relevant topics lurk beneath the surface of “RPO,” enough to make the audience still ponder the subject matter after leaving the theater.
However, for those who read the book, be warned that the changes made to some of the pop-culture references represent significant departures here. In fact, many of the changes in “RPO” can be downright jarring. A piece of advice: Roll with them.
Ultimately, a likable cast, Rylance’s performance is especially memorable, an imaginative story and Spielberg’s ability to meld mirth, mystery and pop culture ensure that “Ready Player One” is a must-see.
‘Ready Player One’
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn
Rating: PG-13 Grade: A
Running time: 140 minutes