After ten years away from the pure popcorn movie genre he helped create in 1975 with "Jaws", Steven Spielberg shows he's still got it with the hugely enjoyable READY PLAYER ONE.
Since 2008 and "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull", Spielberg has focused on more serious fare, delivering terrific films like "Lincoln", "Bridge of Spies" and last year's "The Post".
As great as they were, its terrific to see him back doing what he does best, creating exciting, fun thrillers that push the boundaries of modern special effects.
We meet Wade, a young man living a hard life in 2045 Columbus, Ohio. With little space and the divide between the haves and have-nots severely widened, all the citizens of the world escape reality by living inside the immersive online world of The Oasis. The Oasis is devoted to 80's pop culture and entertainment and you'll be stunned by the amount of entertainment icons, events, games, films, music and events that are woven into the experience.
When the creator of The Oasis, James Halliday dies, he broadcasts an announcement of a quest for three hidden keys that he's buried deep inside one of the thousands of games/worlds inside the Oasis. Whoever finds them will take ownership of the Oasis and the billions of dollars that come with it.
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is touching and hilarious as Halliday, spinning an offbeat genius with more than a touch of Dana Carvey's Garth Algar character from 'Wayne's World".
As Spielberg always does so well, he creates characters you'll connect with, cheer for and root against.
Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) is terrific as villain Sorrento, the owner of a rival video platform company that spends million on a league of gamers to try and beat Wade and the rest of the world in search of the keys.
Wade is well played by Tye Sheridan (X MEN Apocalypse) and he's even better as his online avatar Parzival.
Spielberg is in fine form from beginning to end. He sets up the real world, the online world of The Oasis and the quest effectively and quickly, unleashing us into the Oasis alongside Wade almost immediately.
The opening Oasis sequence is a visually stunning, incredible race for the first key that melds so many 80's elements into one thrilling ride that it leaves you jaw dropped and stunned.
"Back to the Future", "Jurassic Park", every eighties car racing game you can imagine, "Doom", "Tron" the list could go on for paragraphs. Half the fun is seeing how many you can spot.
As Wade meets allies on line in his quest, he creates a band of five that I'll not get into here, as discovering them and who they are is half the fun.
TJ Miller (Deadpool, Silicon Valley) is hilarious as I-R0k, an online lethal killer who is also every stereotypical smart ass basement-dwelling gamer in real life that you can imagine.
For me the most astonishing part of the film is a long sequence that takes place inside the world of Stanley Kubrick's film "The Shining".
Spielberg has long been a fan of Stanley and plays loving tribute to the classic horror film here. For me, its not only the best part of the film, its one of Spielberg's best set pieces ever.
As our heroes search through a perfect visual recreation of the Overlook Hotel and all the horrors within it, I realized that the movies can do anything now. We can create anything, anywhere we'd like. When that homage is done with the visual style and imagination that Spielberg applies here, its a thrilling example of where movies can go in the decades ahead.
This is a hell of a fun movie and that rare film that I can't wait to see again. As we walked out of the theatre, we all said that we probably missed 90% of the content on screen in the first viewing. It demands to be seen again.
Composer Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, The Abyss, Predator) provides an incredible score for both worlds.
Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan) is at the top of his game in both real-life and The Oasis.
Ready for a great summer movie? Sure it's only April this weekend, but Spielberg's already delivered a great big summer movie as an early present.
Halliday's quest for the keys and plan to bestow his company to whoever finds them has been compared to Willy Wonka and his golden ticket giveaway.
The best comparison I can provide between the two is what Spielberg delivers on screen for two hours and twenty minutes: sheer imagination, perfectly executed.
READY PLAYER ONE gets an A.
"The Shining" sequence gets an A+++++.
Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a ride.