READY PLAYER ONE: Rare is the movie that views the future through a lens of optimism. The 2045 of co-producer/director Steven Spielberg’s newest film is a positively bleak and decaying world where the populace lives in squalid, single wide mobile homes that are stacked on top of each other. Escape from their hardscrabble existence of “just surviving” comes in the form of a virtual reality universe called the OASIS where the average “schmo” can become who and whatever they want to be. The stakes are raised, though, when the eccentric genius that constructed the OASIS (Mark Rylance) dies leaving behind a series of confounding riddles leading to a hidden “Easter Egg” whose finder will receive his immense fortune and ownership of the artificial universe. One of the “egg hunters” is an eighteen-year-old gaming prodigy (Tye Sheridan) who has to outplay and outwit a ruthless CEO (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to buy the OASIS so he can sell advertising on it. Seriously? This is your threat? Visually, this is an absorbing landscape in multiple scenes in contrast with the urban blight of Columbus, Ohio in the mid 21st century as photographed by Spielberg’s cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. The production and set design are top notch while the ‘80s rock infused soundtrack fuels “good old days” style nostalgia which doesn’t feel like a good fit for a narrative where the central characters were born over forty years after that era’s heyday. If Spielberg’s THE POST (2017) made us snicker at the hideous styles of men’s apparel in the early ‘70s, it also came with a plot where something was at stake in the development of an adversarial relationship between the press and the White House. That element of consequence is conspicuous by its absence where the very elaborate visual effects dominate over the storytelling to its detriment. Ironically, the real characters are far less interesting than their digital avatars which comes off as being at odds with a movie whose concluding theme is that no matter how much of a crappy trainwreck your real life may be, it’s far better than anything technology can improve upon. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+