Ryan Reynolds returns to the big screen as a wholesome AI who simply wants one thing, to have a great day. Written by Matt Lieberman and directed by Night of the Museum’s Shawn Levy , Free Guy is a light-hearted romance movie set in a videogame world full of fanservice, ridiculous jokes, and is an easy, undemanding story.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is an optimistic NPC stuck in the loop of life. A blue shirt wearing bank teller, his days consist of getting the same coffee, going to the same desk job, and experiencing the same old bank robbery by weapon-wielding maniacs – also known as sunglass people (the videogame’s players). Everything about his life is generic. Even the mass amount of violence around him is hilariously treated as a boring run of the mill occurrence. But Guy’s background life soon changes once he falls head over heels for player Millie (Jodie Comer), and steals a set of sunglasses of his own.
The movie has two distinct storylines here; one is Guy gradually becoming aware that he is an NPC. In a manner reminiscent of The Truman Show – we see him slowly come to terms with the fact that his world isn’t real, and witness him becoming a sentient AI, evolving past his code. The other plotline is set in the real world, where Millie is trying to prove that the hilariously evil CEO of a gaming empire Antoine (Taika Waititi) stole her and her partner Key’s (Joe Keery) code to make the hit multiplayer online game in the film.
The two narratives balance one another, and lead to some hilarious gags as we see two different experiences of the videogame world play out simultaneously. But when you take a step back to look at the movie’s story, you soon realise that despite its goofy charm, amazing special effects, and clever concept, Free Guy is as predictable as they come.
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Nothing is challenging about this story, and as the action movie goes on, expositional dialogue becomes the norm, especially in the case of scenes set in the real world. The movie’s pacing falters, and there are even some boring scenes as programmers begin to talk lawsuits, and try to explain why they can’t simply boot a player, or just patch the game to fix all the problems arising from Guy’s freeballing sentience.
It also feels that in many ways, Free Guy is ironically keeping its own characters as NPC’s, pushing them into the background behind all the videogame references and cameos. The movie’s main plot makes a point against money-hungry CEOs who hate originality – condemning lazy sequels and people-pleasing titles. However, Free Guy is guilty of that very mindset in a very meta way, throwing in a slew of pop culture references that detract from the movie’s potential and overshadow any new cinematic moments.
We never really get a chance to form strong connections with the people on screen or to develop a love for this movie, like the love we have for the references in it. The movie is centred around action, and fanservice, and by the time it asks us to care about the character’s fate, to invest in their romance, it’s almost too late.
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But here is the funny thing: Free Guy is still incredibly fun despite all these lacking plot points, and its cast is highly entertaining. Ryan Reynolds’ enduring optimism is contagious; his cheerful demeanour against all the background carnage delivers one of his best family-friendly performances. If I’d have to describe the movie and Reynold’s performance in a single sentence, I’d say Free Guy is like if Deadpool and the Lego movie had a baby. Similarly, Taika Waititi is hilarious as the self-centred Antoine, and with expert comedic timing, delivers some of the best one-liners I’ve heard this year.
It must also be said that although I pointed out Free Guy’s hypocrisy when it comes to its own themes of originality, seeing all the pop culture references on screen is enjoyable, and will entice re-watches just so you can spot all the easter eggs. The effects, editing and cinematography are fantastic, (as expected from a high budget movie), and no one can deny that the film captures the imagination of a virtual world that is full of endless possibilities.
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If you are looking for a top tier piece of storytelling, packed with deep plots and existential characters, Free Guy isn’t the film for you. However, if you are in the mood for some silly, easy-going fun, it is a solid pick. Yes, it may feel a bit like a marketing ploy, and a deliberate crowd-pleaser in parts, but at least it is a damn entertaining one, and will no doubt become a fast favourite choice for family movie nights.
Free Guy is set to release on August 13 in the UK and US.
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