Spielberg goes back to the future with ‘Ready Player One’

* “Ready Player One,” three stars out of four.

A sci-fi scene from “Ready Player One.” Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

AP Film Writer

“Why can’t we go backward for once?” wonders the protagonist of “Ready Player One” shortly before gunning his “Back to the Future” DeLorean in reverse. “Really put the pedal to the metal.”

Pressing rewind is, if anything, an understandable desire these days. But in today’s reboot, remake-mad movies, it’s not exactly swimming against the tide. Yet Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” a rollicking virtual-world geekfest flooded by ’80s ephemera, doesn’t just want to wade back into the past. It wants to race into it at full throttle. For those who get their fix through pop nostalgia, “Ready Player One” is — for better or worse — an indulgent, dizzying overdose.

In a dystopian 2045 where the world looks mostly like a trash heap, teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in “The Stacks” — not aisles of books but towering piles of mobile homes — in Columbus, Ohio, with his aunt. “These days,” he narrates, “reality’s a bummer.” With bleakness all around, seemingly everyone is addicted to strapping on a headset and entering the virtual-reality landscape of the OASIS. There, an individual can transform into a digital avatar — live-action or animated, human or extraterrestrial, Sonny or Cher — and do basically anything. Your imagination is your only limit.

It’s been five years since the death of OASIS creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a fizzy-haired Steve Jobs-meets-Willy Wonka nerd deity who left behind a trio of Easter Eggs — hidden clues — in his game. The first one to find the keys and follow them to the end will win the rights to the trillion-dollar company. Wade, who goes by Parzival inside OASIS, is among the competitors still trying to crack the first challenge — a blistering melee through New York City streets where racers must evade, among other things, King Kong and the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park.”

“Ready Player One,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.

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