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Ready Player One
Set in the mid-21st century, Ready Player One is a dystopian big budget fantasy, which imagines a resource-depleted world that relies on virtual reality as an escape from the gloom of the everyday. On more than one occasion, Steven Spielberg's film issues dire warning about the zombification of entire generations, who believe "meaningful" relationships can be forged online. "Reality is the only thing that's real," proclaims one pivotal character. It's a bitter irony that Spielberg's picture gleefully ignores its own advice to hurtle at breakneck speed into eye-popping digital realms crammed with gaming in-jokes, but offers us no compelling reason to remove the goggles and interface in person. As a visual spectacle, the film is a tour-de-force of technical wizardry. Action sequences are orchestrated with pulse-quickening aplomb including a destruction derby that incorporates a rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex and King Kong, and a breath-taking return to The Overlook Hotel as imagined in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining. In the giant Imax format, Spielberg's mastery of set pieces is jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, the fast and furious smacking of gobs doesn't extend to a script adapted from Ernest Cline's celebrated 2011 novel by the author and Zak Penn. In 2045, mankind unites in a virtual space called the Oasis. In this fantastical realm, accessed via headsets and gloves, everyone can indulge their whims such as climbing Mount Everest in the company of Batman. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is a teenager living in a rundown trailer park with his uncaring aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) and her brutish fella (Ralph Ineson). The teenager sneaks off to his scrapyard hideaway where he journeys through the Oasis in the guise of his avatar Parzival and trades banter with fellow players Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao). They are hunting three fabled keys, which James Halliday (Mark Rylance), co-creator of the Oasis, concealed before his death. The first person to solve the fiendish puzzles that protect these keys will be granted ownership of the game. The quest to solve Halliday's riddles pits Wade and co against Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Machiavellian chief executive of Innovative Online Industries, who intends to seize control of the Oasis by fair means or - preferably - foul. Ready Player One begs and pleads for repeat viewings to spot myriad pop culture references including Knight Rider, A Nightmare On Elm Street and a killer joke with the Chucky doll from Child's Play. Sheridan and Cooke are an appealing pairing but they don't share enough real world screen time to turn up the heat on their characters' romance. "She's hacking your heart to get to your head," Wade is warned. Spielberg's film attempts to go the same route with us via a dizzying blitzkrieg of 1980s and 1990s nostalgia, but ultimately falls short.