“Everything is a lie!” - Guy
Free Guy is one of those movies that I was, I guess peripherally aware of. I knew it existed, but before the trailers started to play at the multiplex, I had no idea what it was about. But I knew that it starred Ryan Reynolds, which would pretty much sell it to me in any event. I consider Reynolds one of the most engaging and charismatic movie stars around, along with Dwayne Johnson. Both know exactly what works for them and their screen persona. (And yes, there IS a film upcoming at the end of the year, where both men star with Gal Gadot. Look for Red Notice later in the year, on Netflix.)
This is a film that is part of a growing sub-genre of films that took an incredibly long time to get to where they are now. Films that take place within a videogame. It all kicked off all those years ago with Tron in 1982 (And yup, I’m old enough to have seen that at the cinema) then kind of died a death until its re-emergence in recent years with films like Tron: Legacy, Disney’s Ralph movies to an extent, and the glorious Ready Player One. While Tron, of course became the sleeper cult hit that some of us always knew it was destined to be. (And again, yes – I was one of them.)
I had assumed it’d have maybe a Truman Show vibe to it, and to an extent it does. But add to that, a touch of Pleasantville (another under-rated film I love) a bit of the aforementioned Ready Player One and a hefty slice of the legendary Tron and you have Free Guy. A film that takes place partly in the real world, and partly (but mainly) in the world of a videogame called Free City. The likeable lead character is simply Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Guy is a NPC within a videogame. (Oh, I should probably warn you here that you don’t HAVE to play videogames to “get” this film’s references and in-jokes. But it helps. It sure helped me.)
For the uninitiated, an NPC is a non-playable character. A background character generated by the game that the player can’t control. Like the drivers of the other cars in a racing game, when you’re playing alone. Or those random people on the street on Grand Theft Auto that you can shoot or run over for extra points. (And that comes across as slightly more sociopathic than I had intended -but you get the drift, right?) Guy is a teller in a bank that is routinely robbed by armed gunmen as a mission in the online game. It happens every day, except Guy doesn’t realise it’s happening every day. In fact, nobody knows that they’re doing the same thing over and over.
Meanwhile in the real world we follow two game developers. Walter McKey known as “Keys” (Joe Keery) and Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer) have built a game called Life Itself, but its revolutionary code was stolen by unscrupulous head developer Antwan (a scene stealing Taika Waititi). Keys now works in Antwan’s Soonami Games corporation whose most popular product is Free City, built on the stolen code. He’s looking for evidence of the theft, while Millie plays the game constantly under the avatar of Molotov Girl, looking for any evidence of the code inside the game.
She encounters Guy, who seems a little…different. He’s not following the pre-determined protocols of a NPC, and it becomes apparent that Guy is developing independence and is becoming a living algorithm. (Take THAT, Space Jam: New Legacy. THIS is how you execute a story with a self-aware algorithm) However, Antwan is on the verge of wiping Free City in order to launch a new game as a replacement, which will spell certain doom for Guy and all the other in-game characters.
Reynolds is perfectly cast as the always smiling, eternally optimistic Guy. His gift for juggling drama, action, sarcasm and overall likeability is perfect for the role. He displays the same characteristics here that have convinced me that I’ll never want to see anybody else take the mantle of Deadpool. It’s true that he can be accused of playing slight variations of the same character over and over – but that’s what audiences pay for and he’s obviously giving us exactly what we want. Taika Waititi is a great in front of the camera as he is behind it. (I still feel I owe him for rescuing Thor with Ragnarok. The direction of that film was a welcome relief from The Dark World, which for a few years, I found hard to get through. It remained one of my least favourite Marvel movies until recently.)
There’s plenty of stuff to enjoy here, a fantastic cameo from Chris Evans, also, under heavy disguises, Hugh Jackman and Dwayne Johnson. Even some weaponry from other franchises make blink and you’ll miss them appearances. Look for a certain shield, the weapon of a Jedi, and some gaming gizmos from Halo, Fortnite and Half-Life 2.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one far more than I expected to. I was hoping for a good time, I had a GREAT time.
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