Free Guy

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Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy.
Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy.
Photo: Alan Markfield/Twentieth Century Fox


Free Guy


Sunday, 24 July at 20:05 on M-Net (DStv 101)


3/5 Stars


When a bank teller discovers he's actually a background player in an open-world video game, he decides to become the hero of his own story - one that he can rewrite himself. In a world where there's no limits, he's determined to save the day his way before it's too late and maybe find a little romance with the coder who conceived him.


It's no secret that successful video game films are a rare jewel, typically bogged down by an inability to translate game mechanics and story to a cinematic narrative that appeals to both gamers and a non-gaming audience. While Free Guy isn't based on any specific game, like Ready Player One, its amalgamation of some of the most popular games out there makes it a different kind of video game film - but not one created for actual gamers.

However, its premise is something new - set in the virtual massively multiplayer online role-playing (MMORPG) game of Free City. A non-playing character (NPC) called Guy suddenly becomes self-aware of the world around him. While he navigates this existential crisis, another battle is playing out to save the soul of the game in the real world.

As you might have guessed from the barrage of online marketing for this film, this is very much a Ryan Reynolds movie, and the box office star/co-producer is just playing a wholesome version of Deadpool. Much like his favourite bad-mouthed mercenary, it's clear that Free Guy is also a passion project for the actor, mixing over-the-top stunts with witty quips that annoys the bad guys and charms the leading lady. One's enjoyment of this film is highly dependant on one's likeability of Reynolds because no one plays this type of character better than the man who's made it his career.

As for the rest of the cast, it's at least clear that everyone genuinely enjoyed themselves, oozing with joy that you only get from fun work environments. Taika Waititi doesn't believe in small roles, channelling every asshole tech billionaire he could muster, while Jodie Comer's talents are somewhat wasted as a game developer seeking revenge. The rest aren't pretty memorable, although the Black Best Friend of Guy played by Lil Rel Howery was so much a stereotype it baffles belief.

Like most new movies, Free Guy had a long journey to the cinemas with constant Covid-19 delays, but it had a more interesting road than most. It's one of the first releases that started out as a Fox film but finished production under the Disney flag after the latter's massive takeover of the former. This transition is clearly stamped on the film, introducing Marvel-trademarked 'weapons' in the game and a cameo as an ode to the monolith and as obvious callbacks to Reynolds' most famous character.

But does all of this make for good entertainment? Despite its critical and box office success, with a sequel already in the works, it's just too damn wholesome. Guy breaks a common gaming stereotype by playing as a good guy to level up, fighting against most gamers' destructive nature to abuse NPCs. This already smacks of the preachy 'games are too violent' argument and paints all gamers as murderous psychopaths. It's a massive generalisation of the gaming community, despite trying to show player diversity and introducing awkward as hell cameos from real streamers. Younger Fortnite gamers and people outside of the gaming community will very much enjoy the family-friendly and easter egg-filled narrative of the story, but older, hardened gamers will wholeheartedly hate it.

Except for the Channing Tatum cameo - I don't think it's humanly possible to hate on him.

Free Guy, however, has excellent timing. Audiences are craving some fun and feel-good films now more than ever, and if it were released before the pandemic, I don't believe it would have done as well as it has. I would have preferred darker humour that dives a little deeper into the philosophical debate around the right to life of artificial intelligence and one that gamers like myself can spiritually relate to. Perhaps we'll get that in the sequel, but with Disney and Reynolds at the helm, I doubt that.


Watch Free Guy on M-Net this Sunday.

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