Pop-culture-soaked blockbuster is pure Spielberg

Steven Spielberg has been making movies my entire life, and he's made some of the best of them. Still, it's been a while since he's made one like “Ready Player One,” a return to the sort of joyous, eye-popping spectacle that is his signature.

Simply put, Spielberg is one of the big reasons I love movies, so it's impossible not to recommend his return to this kind of crowd-pleaser.

“Ready Player One” is set in a future dystopia known as “Columbus, Ohio, 2045.” That's right, it's set here, and look for a great cameo by a familiar (if upgraded) skyline. Also, you can play a drinking game where you drink each time a character name-drops Columbus. It's a lot.

People such as young Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) escape from the harsh realities of future-Columbus by way of the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality that allows people to be anything they want. “Except for eating, sleeping and bathroom breaks, we do everything in the OASIS.”

The creator of this video game world is the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who's set up a kind of Golden Ticket-contest upon the event of his death. He's hidden three keys to an “Easter egg” somewhere in the OASIS. And the finder of the egg, Wonka-style, gets complete control of the world.

Wade is already one of the more gifted players, and soon he teams with another virtual avatar named Artemis (Olivia Cooke) to seek the egg.

But corporate baddie Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has both virtual and real-world teams trying to stop them. Because controlling the world where everyone spends their time is worth a lot of money.

Working from the novel by Ernest Cline, Spielberg makes this world his own, and he's placed more Easter eggs than you could ever spot in one viewing.

“Ready Player One” is a pure nostalgia bath for a generation. The '80s soundtrack sets the tone for spotting more pop-culture references than you can imagine, and spotting them is a lot of fun.

But it's also pure Spielberg magic. Count me among those who thought the trailer indicated a hot CGI mess, but the full experience is so immersive. It's essentially half animated movie, and it works far better than I expected.

It has actual emotional connection, thanks to Spielberg's uncanny knack as a storyteller and a fine cast of faces who aren't huge stars, which allows you to get even more lost in it.

If Spielberg is why I love movies, then this is why I love Spielberg.