Can a world on the brink of collapse be saved by an Easter Egg?
Ready Player One stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, an orphaned teenager living Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045 .
In this this scrapyard version of America citizens live in The Stacks - vertical trailer parks made of girders and mobile homes - and spend their time strapped into headsets, wandering the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a virtual-reality landscape where they live a colourful life as the avatar they choose.
Inside the dazzling OASIS Wade becomes handsome adventurer Parzival, who races in the wing-doored DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future alongside his hulking best buddy Aech (pronounced 'H', and voiced by Lena Waithe), as they try to outrun the likes of Jurassic Park's T. Rex and movie ape King Kong.
The opening sequence is a breathtaking reminder that Spielberg is a master of choreographing action that leaves you grasping onto the edge of your seat.
Wade is racing other gamers for a secret key, one of three "Easter eggs" hidden away in the OASIS by its late creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the film's Willy Wonka figure.
He is a revered games designer, and a gentle, withdrawn, genius who appears in virtual scenes to give the players clues. On his quest to find the keys, Wade/Parzival teams up with fellow gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), an avatar with punk-red hair and the oversize eyes of an anime character, to outwit Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), a CEO who will stop at nothing to win the keys so he can monetise the OASIS with advertising.
Ready Player One is peppered with nostalgic references to classic '80s films, including Back to the Future, The Iron Giant, Stephen King's Christine and James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day. One of the most stunning sequences is when Parzival and Art3mis and Aech end up the hotel of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining - complete with the actual lobby footage from the 1980 film.
While these do stir nostalgia at times, you can't help but feel that some of the references, like Monty Python and Beetlejuice, will go over younger fans heads.
Leading lady Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) and Sheridan don't have any obvious chemistry, and even their first date becomes another opportunity to showcase the versatility of the virtual world, as Parzival gets ready for the evening by morphing into assorted outfits - he tries on Prince and Michael Jackson outfits, as well as a Duran Duran trench coat before settling on the shaggy suit and tie of Buckaroo Banzai.
The movie rushes towards to an epic battle between the denizens of the OASIS and Sorrento's minions, which gets a little confusing as the characters dash between the virtual and actual worlds.
Small quibbles aside, it's as entertaining a movie as you might expect from master auteur Spielberg, who practically created the modern blockbuster. While he hammers the message home that virtual reality is inferior to real life a little too hard, it's a return to form for the movie veteran who has tried his hardest to bring movies, and himself up to date.