(Written by Allison Brown)
Free Guy is a movie I have been anticipating for quite some time, as the release date has moved from July 2020 to December 2020, and now it is finally here! The long lapse of time due to the pandemic has even led to personal confusion with the plot, associating it with my least favorite genre—superheros! Once my memory was jogged, it was obvious that Free Guy is completely unrelated. On a re-watch of the trailer, I was reminded of the plot’s unique play on a popular conspiracy theory: are we living in a simulation? Penned by screenwriters, Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, the script tackles friendship, love, purpose, what constitutes “life” (i.e. artificial intelligence), and in some instances, depression. Pretty deep, I must say, for a Disney (well, officially 20th Century Studios) flick!
Free Guy opens on Guy (Ryan Reynolds) running through his day-to-day morning routine in Free City (which happens to be visually very similarly to New York). He gets out of bed, greets his goldfish—aptly named Goldie—and stops for his daily medium coffee with cream and two sugars served by a barista named Missy (ironically also a rude nickname in which customers sometimes refer to waitresses). He is overenthusiastic about his mundane life, even going so far as to claim his plain coffee is like “losing my virginity in my mouth.” His world has a social caste system, defined by the superior sunglasses people. This class is mystifying, until Guy finds a way to steal sunglasses from a bank robber and uncovers an entire new world. He can finally see objects, flashy graphics, and life controls that were hidden prior. His bank account leaps beyond its original means! It eventually becomes clear to the audience that Free City isn’t just where Guy resides, but it is also the name of a popular game (soon-to-be) franchise.
Guy says he “lives in paradise” working as a bank teller (and constantly getting robbed on a daily basis). His best friend, hilariously named Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), is a humble security officer at the bank. Their bromance is the heart of the movie. Amidst the aforementioned daily burglary, the two cheerfully gossip on the ground about a dream girl with whom Guy has become infatuated. Little does Guy know that this woman is not truly a part of his universe. Millie presents in the video game as Molotov Girl, with a sole goal to find proof that the game’s creator and head of Soonami Studios, Antwan (Taika Waititi), royally scammed her and her partner Keys (Joe Keery). She asserts that Antwan stole their passion project, Free Life, while claiming to shelf it due to unprofitability. Unfortunately, Keys is now a Soonami employee, reporting to this egotistical maniac, Antwan.
It sinks in that sunglasses are the distinction between game players and NPCs. By stealing the glasses, Guy slowly gains a new level of sentience and evolves so much that everyone assumes he has stolen an NPC skin. Even Millie assumes this on her first interaction with Guy. She initially doesn’t take him seriously, and ultimately tells Guy that he needs to level up to be part of her posse. Most players do this through a life of crime, but Guy can be nothing but good. He cannot bear the thought of hurting people, and instead, becomes the first successful individual to jump levels by becoming a hero. Guy steps in where people are about to be hurt, and turns their crimes against them. He eventually gains viral notoriety as “blue shirt guy” to those in the real world, making him originally a financial goldmine and finally a prime enemy to Antwan.
From the trailer and star power alone, one would assume Guy is the main character, but there is much more to this film than meets the eye. There are two parallel settings, life in Free City and at Soonami Studios/Millie’s apartment (which is seemingly in New York City). These overlap with Millie entering the game as Molotov Girl, and interacting with Guy as she would with any other real life human being. I would argue that Keys (Joe Keery) becomes the true titular character as the narrative unfolds, due to his influence in the world both in the game and out. However, it is hard to explain Keys significance without delving into a deluge of spoilers. All I can say is that Mariah Carey’s Fantasy, bubblegum ice cream, and a swing set become central to his (and another character’s) prime story.
To discount Free Guy as a generic video game simulation comedy would be a huge disservice. A significant chunk of the film’s storyline aligns heavily with the complex themes of Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode. There were many elements of artificial intelligence discussion that contemplate whether or not a sentient being in a virtual world is considered alive or truly a person. For character Guy, this awareness presents in several depressive behaviors, such as new frustration in his life’s monotony and a need for change, particularly in a different morning coffee.
I am happy to report that Free Guy is worth the never-ending wait, just as A Quiet Place Part II before it. Ryan Reynolds, prior to Guy’s self-actualization, basically plays himself in every Ryan Reynolds typecast comedy, complete with quirky facial expressions and overexcited speech. Jodie Comer is absolutely wonderful as Millie. She is genuine and sweet; one can truly feel her internal struggle as she feels herself connecting romantically with an entity that isn’t real (or is he?). The cameos (which Reynolds urges the audience not to reveal in a prerecorded segment prior to the film) are perfectly casted, dropping in two A-list heartthrobs and a beloved late television personality. The character names are perhaps the most amusing part, offering laughable descriptors as generic as possible. Free Guy is a splendid time, and I highly recommend the watch, if only to see a beefed-up, braindead Ryan Reynolds NPC named Dude (to counter Guy), who only offers up lorem catchphrases.
Free Guy uncovers the truth in theatres on Friday, August 13th.