Free Guy

While billed as one of the few non-franchise, non-sequel blockbuster releases, and also an actual plot point in the film is intellectual property theft

While billed as one of the few non-franchise, non-sequel blockbuster releases, and also an actual plot point in the film is intellectual property theft, Free Guy does sort of crib from numerous sources. It’s a bit of The Truman Show, The Lego Movie, The Matrix and They Live in a sandbox open world Grand Theft Auto style video game. Still, a lot of cool movies are basically cobbled together from component pieces of different blockbusters. Free Guy zips along with fun performances, cartoonish chaos , bombastic baddies, romance, numerous pop-culture references, gratuitous celebrity cameos and pondering the nature of existence in a digital world. Putting everything in a blender makes this very entertaining.

In Free City, the video game where players bash and shoot and steal everything in sight, lives the non-player character (NPC) named Guy (Ryan Reynolds). He wears a blue shirt and works at the bank. One day, he notices MolotovGirl (Jodie Comer) who is one of the glasses wearing characters, the human players. Guy impulsively steals glasses from one of the players and he can suddenly see the world outside his world where buildings and cars are labelled for levels and loot. MolotovGirl in the real world is Millie, a programmer who was developing a game with her friend, Keys (Joe Keery), which was bought by the megalomaniacal software company owner, Antwan (Taika Waititi). Millie is searching in Free City for code from their game, but things go awry when the random Blue Shirt Guy NPC starts participating. Now Blue Shirt Guy is becoming a social media hero but his actions may cause the entire world to be shut down.
Reynolds’ Guy is a likeable doof, slightly different from Deadpool’s likeable doof because Guy is gleefully oblivious. Even when Guy attains the glasses and sees the world on top of his world, he’s amicably confused by the whole thing. His evolution across the film is interesting and the story reason why he’s evolving is rather cool. When he reaches the end of his journey, it’s rather stirring. The newly enlightened Guy is trying to get his fellow NPCs to change, and his sidekick Buddy (Lil Rel Howrey) is funny while he’s adamant everything stays the same.
Comer as MolotovGirl/Millie has a lot of different accents and character types. Her in game avatar starts out with a British accent but eventually drops it, telling Guy that she turned off the filter. While in game MolotovGirl is a guns blazing badass, Millie seems beaten down as Comer’s body language and demeanour shifts for each character. She has one of the movie’s biggest laughs when MolotovGirl and Guy share a kiss while stirring, dramatic music plays and then cut to Millie sitting at her computer looking confused. When Keys there isn’t even a button to kiss she says, rather emphatically, “Oh, he found the button.” Keery’s Keys is stuck working for Antwan and there’s a few moments when his inner emotional side shows through. As the baddie, Waititi has a faux-gangsta style that is funny but underneath there’s a menacing side which comes out at the end.

The influences in Free Guy are easy to spot. It is sort of bordering on outright theft which is ironic when the two human heroes of the film are lamenting their ideas have been stolen. The magic glasses that let people see hidden messages inside the world feels very much like something out of the sci-fi horror classic They Live. The computer world is very Matrix-y, Guy becoming a hero to a cheering audience on the outside world is Truman Show. Guy being a gleefully oblivious blue collar workaday cog in a sinister larger machine is very much like Emmet from The Lego Movie. It’s a bit much the movie portrays the intellectual theft as unjust since the movie is doing it wholesale. Still, pastiche films can be a lot of fun and become something original. One of the movie’s best bits is when Guy loads up on some very iconic weapons from some very iconic, and Disney owned, franchises and the random one-shot cameo for a reaction shot is all kinds of genius.
Video-game logic and in-jokes abound in Free Guy. The way the world shifts from dreary real-world to colourful cartoon icons for player missions is very inventive. A loud train that almost crushes Guy seen through the glasses is just a yellow transport icon. One great scene has a player interacting with Guy and Buddy and the avatar is played by Channing Tatum. Amusingly, the game avatar is constantly stopping and yelling because in the real world his mom is giving him a hard time. There’s going to be a sequel game to Free City so Antwan is giving the original characters a makeover, which leads to Guy confronting Dude, a giant, bulky, somewhat intellectually under-cooked version of himself. Since the sequel game Dude isn’t fully developed he just hollers “Catchphrase!” and “TBD!” while beating up Guy. Even YouTube gaming personalities are watching and commenting on Guy’s battles throughout Free City.
Free Guy is a blast with constant gags and candy coloured visuals. It may crib a bit liberally from other more iconic sci-fi/fantasy movies but the end result is so enjoyable that’s not a problem. Just like the carefree, eager to please Guy, it’s an easy movie to like.
Free Guy
4 stars
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery and Utkarsh Ambudkar

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