Free Guy

The movies are back, baby!

Shawn Levy’s 2021 action comedy “Free Guy” is one of those frothy popcorn flicks which actually benefit well from being viewed with an enthusiastic audience. After cinemas being closed since June due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the audience for the Friday night session I attended laughed, gasped and cheered in all the right places and then some, and I was happy to be back.

Ryan Reynolds plays “Guy”, a NPC (non-player character) in an open-world video game called “Free City”, similar to Grand Theft Auto who breaks free from his designated role in the background and becomes the hero of his world. But Guy doesn’t know that he’s only a NPC, he doesn’t know that he doesn’t exist in the physical world and he doesn’t know that he’s not supposed to be thinking the things he’s thinking or feeling the things he’s feeling. Back in the physical world, code writers Keys (Joe Keery) and Millie (Jodie Comer) are working together to try and prove that the developer of “Free City”, the conniving and ruthless Antwan (Taika Waititi) actually stole the code that they had designed for their own game. Once Antwan announces that there is 48 hours until the sequel to “Free City” is being launched and the original “Free City” universe will be completely erased, Millie teams up with Guy in the “Free City” world to find the evidence they need to expose Antwan.

It’s an inventive concept, fairly similar in tone and theme to 2014’s “The Lego Movie”. I think “The Lego Movie” probably had a bit more fun with playing around with the idea though, and at times I definitely felt like “Free Guy” rested a little too much on the concept itself and lacked the dry self awareness of “The Lego Movie” which made it such a hit. Some of the scenes between the two films are almost identical; Guy and “The Lego Movie’s” hero Emmett wake up every morning and do the same things, both of them have mundane jobs and catch phrases and both of the characters are everyday individuals looking for something greater. For some reason though, Emmett seemed more like an original character, whereas I started to notice more and more that Guy was more or less Buddy the Elf from “Elf”. Ryan Reynolds is funny as Guy, but I think he works better with edgier humour and there were times where I felt like he was wasted in the nice guy role, especially since he was so iconic as Deadpool. I would have loved to have seen a version of this where they really went for it and went with some raunchier humour and more full on violence, especially since these types of games are the ones where you can literally beat up pedestrians on the street and rob strippers. The PG-13 rating I think limited the film at times, but its obvious that this is a conscious choice and the filmmakers don’t want to miss out on their under 15 demographic.

While its not side split-tingly funny, I did chuckle quite a few times. The actual appeal in the film is as a family-friendly action adventure movie. Taika Waititi is a pretty decent villain and you want him to fail as much as you want the heroes to succeed. The action sequences are sensational and its fun watching the fight scenes which are different to other action movies because the characters have access to all the cool power-ups and weapons of video games. Interestingly enough, there’s also a philosophical question not dissimilar to that of “Blade Runner” or the episode of South Park where Cartman pretends he’s a robot; what is a human? What constitutes life? Should Guy, an amalgam of computer code, who can think and feel and love for himself, be considered as much a valuable human soul as much as the people who created him? Could Millie, a living human, really fall in love with a computer game character who doesn’t exist outside of the game hard drive? Of course its not explored in too much depth but its an interesting little feature of the film and one I enjoyed!

J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan, famously placed young children strategically in his audiences so that the older members of the crowd would feel less self conscious and allow themselves to be swept up in the magic of it all. Perhaps not on the same scale, but there were some kids, I’d say around nine or ten, who were having the time of their lives during Shawn Levy’s “Free Guy” and before long, so were the rest of us. It was nice to enjoy a film with a crowd again, I’ve missed it. “Free Guy” is not groundbreaking or even particularly memorable, but its good fun entertainment and exactly the kind of flick I’m happy I was able to share.

By Jock Lehman

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