Movie Review: Free Guy
Free Guy is about Guy, a bank teller in Free City, who doesn't realize he's in a video game and that he's not a main character. Guy becomes self aware when he takes glasses from a player and puts them on realizing his world has a lot more to offer. He chases the girl of his dreams, a player into the places he didn't know existed. On the other side, Millie, the player Guy has fallen for, is a game designer who had her code stolen by the company who owns Free City. Millie's on a quest to prove the code was used illegally, all with the help of her former partner, Keys, who works for the offending company. What they and the world at large are coming to realize is that Guy is much more than a faceless character now, he's learning. The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Utkarsh Ambutkar, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howrey, Taika Waititi, Matty Cardarople, and Channing Tatum. The film is written by Zak Penn and Matt Lieberman and directed by Shawn Levy. The film is exclusively in theaters.
We've kind of seen the video game film before, right? We've seen the gamers and the techs and when something goes drastically wrong, but we've not seen a video game film from this angle. The non-playable characters are supposed to be faceless, uninteresting, collateral damage, but it's fascinating to think if they have inner lives or think about the horror they face hourly.
The gimmick wears a little thin after a while. It's funny to watch the crazy excitement in the background, but I'm glad there's more to Free Guy than I initially thought. Yes, it is a typical story about a lovelorn handsome guy who goes after a woman (manic pixie dream girl) who initially has no interest in him. Yes, it is about the everyman becoming a hero in a world that desperately needs one. Yes, it is about an evil CEO that will destroy the game rather than let someone else beat him at it. Yes, it is about the quest to find a secret hidden level that will save the world and transfer ownership to the right people. Yes, all that to say there are many, many similarities between this and Ready Player One, but (thank god), Free Guy keeps its rampant IP flaunting to a short scene toward the end.
Though, like I wrote, Free Guy evolves into something entirely different. Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn's script has a depth I wasn't expecting, giving complex feelings to my hatred of A.I. in all its forms. Because Guy can learn, he teaches others to learn. He brings the fire down from Mount Olympus in a way. There's quite an interesting thought experiment on the nature of being and what it means to be alive, to love, to have compassion. More than anything it's about trying to find out how to be human and less alone.
You all know I love a platonic relationship more than anything else and the relationship between Guy and his best friend Buddy is truly incredible. Buddy and Guy wait out the robberies together on the floor of the bank and have deep talks about what makes them content in their lives and even if Guy's a lovelorn romantic, Buddy is willing to listen as long as he's willing to talk. Even when Buddy doesn't go with Guy on his initial spree, he comes through with a genuine and, dare I say moving, heart to heart on more than one occasion. Near the climax of the film I nearly let a tear slip as Buddy and Guy stand at a chasm and Buddy tells Guy what an important friendship they have. It's touching and makes the true ending that much sweeter.
I also really liked the will they won't they of Millie and Keys. It's obvious he's in love with her from the moment we see them together, but I really like the journey they go on. It's a process helped by the fact that they're both realistic about the nature of Guy and Millie's attraction to him. It's a nice slow build that never over powers the rest of the story.
There's a lot not to like about Free Guy. The jokes are so-so, the main plot is quite a bit derivative, and there were a bunch of real life video game streamers talking about video game things that was incredibly boring, yet it becomes this vehicle for something utterly fascinating and worthwhile. I'm conflicted about recommending Free Guy. I want you to see that beautiful catharsis I was able to pull from it, but I don't want you to have to wade through the bullshit. I'll say this, if you do choose to go see it, watch it for Guy, Buddy and their relationship because if you do, that ending makes it worth it.