We are what we listen to, watch and play. Ready Player One, director Steven Spielberg’s film version of the Ernest Cline best-seller, opens in wide release this weekend. It’s a return to blockbuster form for Spielberg in a fantasia of pop culture and visual effects that has just enough depth and fun to overcome the pandering core of its premise.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in the “stacks” of Columbus, Ohio in the year 2044. Following a series of cataclysmic events, much of the Earth’s cities have been reduced to slumlike dwellings stacked on top of each other. In order to escape this miserable existence, everybody on Earth enters a virtual world called The Oasis.

The Oasis is essentially a massive video game where players can compete in challenges, represent themselves with avatars and essentially do whatever they want. Players earn coins inside The Oasis which form both a virtual and real-world currency where they can buy upgrades inside the game or hardware to play the game in the real world from a company called IOI. The Oasis has essentially replaced the real world.

Prior to the start of the film, the founder of The Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has passed away but left a challenge in his will. Any Oasis player who can complete three tasks to find a series of keys that will unlock an Easter Egg inside the game will inherit ownership of The Oasis and essentially control the new world.

Wade, through his in-game avatar Parzival, is one of many “Gunters” (egg-hunters) who spends most of his time in the Oasis searching for the keys. He’s not alone and is helped by his best friend Aech (Lena Waite) and crush Art3mis (Samantha Cooke) in questing for the keys. However, they must contend with the evil in-game henchman of IOI CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to find the Easter Egg himself and earn a complete monopoly over the entire world.

Ready Player One is rooted in the classic big-screen adventure stories it references endlessly. A simple premise built around the MacGuffin of the Easter Egg and the three keys could not be more of a fundamental bit of storytelling. We have the hero’s quest. We have the villain. We have the love interest. It’s all laid out just as it would have been for an old-school hero like Indiana Jones or somebody as futuristic as Luke Skywalker.

This is where the film really works. It manages not to get so completely overwhelmed by its virtual world that it leans on it. The story at its core could be told in any time and in any realm and is rooted in the same archetypal characters that made the best big screen heroes. This is a film that’s by and for the world, it’s referencing.

And those endless references are where it sets itself apart. Pop culture abounds in a never-stopping stream of Deloreans, comic book heroes, pop music and horror movies – and that’s just the tip of the Spielberg iceberg. The creator of The Oasis was obsessed with the same type of pop culture currently dominating our collective nostalgia and the exact type that was so influential to filmmakers of this era. This film simply does not stop referencing that exact pop culture and the world of The Oasis is built around the pop culture content developed in Spielberg’s heyday.

While it’s fun to watch the maestro of this era bring a story to life that’s almost an homage to himself, the endless references can get a little tired after awhile. By the time the fifteenth eighties song and the 24th little Easter Egg related to another piece of ‘80s sci-fi whizzes by the screen, it starts to feel like the film is relying so much on its references that it’s getting in the way of the story. It almost becomes the story’s job to overcome its world’s need for this pop culture pastiche and though it succeeds, for the most part, it doesn’t work every single time.

Ready Player One is a pop culture treasure trove that delivers the gold coins more often than it tilts. It could rely a little less on overwhelming us with references and allow the world of its story to be more of the centerpiece, but that’s part of the point: Our world has become so dominated by the content we consume that it’s hard to differentiate them at times.

And that is both this film’s biggest hindrance and its greatest triumph.