It’s a well known fact by now that movies that adopt the mechanics of how videogame’s work into their plots usually end up being far superior than movies based on actual video game licenses. The evidence is all there to see, I mean just compare Doom’s choppy storytelling with Edge Of Tomorrow’s respawning shenanigans and the latest movie to press the start button on this style is Free Guy, the most recent excuse for Ryan Reynolds to deliver the most endearing snark in the business.
Focusing on the kind of large, open world sandbox games that usually require the completion of tasks and a healthy tolerance to being called the C-word by toxic, twelve year olds, can the director of the Night In The Museum trilogy manage to fo justices to a concept so high it makes Cheech and Chong seem ten years sober…
Welcome to Free City, a sunny, towering metropolis that’s rocked by helicopter explosions while endless gunfights rage in the streets and in this maelstrom of hedonistic violence lives the happy-go-lucky Guy, an amiable fella who sees the best in everything despite the fact that the bank he works in seems to get robbed every hour. Everyday is the same for Guy; the same hours, the same breakfast, the same coffee bought from the same store on his way to work, but his unbreakable routine changes on the day he meets Molotov Girl, a woman who seems to be the woman he’s been waiting to bump into his entire life…
It’s here things get tricky, you see Guy isn’t real, he’s actually a non playable character (or NPC) in Free City, vast online experience that’s taken the entire world by storm (think Grand Theft Auto meets Fortnite) but his chance meeting jump starts a change in his behavioral patterns that essentially turns him into legitimate artificial intelligence and makes him want to level up inside the game in order to meet up with her again by going around and protecting the other NPCs.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Molotov Girl is actually Millie, a games programmer who is scouring Free World in order to find evidence that the whole game was built on an existing one that she and her partner, Keys, has whisked out from under them by Free World’s stunningly douchey creator, Antwan.
As Guy unwittingly becomes an overnight sensation online due to his ass kicking campaign of niceness, Millie and Keys catch on to how important he actually is and how he came help the former in her lawsuit against Antwan, who has no problem shutting down the whole thing in favour of his super glitchy sequel, the originally named Free World 2…
Can Guy manage to get the other NPCs to revolt against their programming in order to find a way to save their world before Antwon deletes the whole damn lot just to prove a point?
Even people who have been living in in the wilderness for the last couple of years, strangling rabbits to eat like a post-modern Gollum would hear the premise to Free Guy and start quizzically scratching their heads and familiarity of it all. Yes, the film is painfully like The Truman Show in many ways while also being a mash up with virtually every movie ever made that’s ever involved a self aware A.I. demanding “what is kiss?”. But Short Circuit comparisons aside, despite Free Guy’s admittedly shamless piggybacking on the shoulders of other movies, the fun factor proves to be hugely infectious as this latest vehicle for the Ryan Reynolds wisecrack machine turns out to be a bigger blast than one of the copious explosions that occur matter of factly all over the place.
Free City will be instantly popular to anyone who’s even sneezed near an open world game and ever frame is crammed with visual jokes and references of gaming quirks such as an extremely poor winner enthusiastically tea bagging a downed foe or a clueless newb running in place against a wall. The fashion choices of the playable characters make the dress sense of Saint’s Row look positively conservative and the whole thing looks utterly gorgeous as everyday chaos rains fire as our lead nonchalantly goes to work.
Oddly though, while Ryan Reynolds rubs his usual charm on the affable Guy, his very presence creates a sort of odd plot hole – if Guy has only limited responses until they’re unlocked by meeting the girl of his dreams, it’s odd that he cracks Ryan Reynolds style jokes before hand… But you know what, nevermind that, because Free Guy is a movie that cares more about being as sweet and fun as its main character than it does dotting the “i”s and lining the “t”s and if you go with its colourful flow – which plays far better as a zany rom-com than an action flick – the film has a remarkable amount of in-jokes and secret cameos to keep you going (Chaning Tatum, I’m looking at you).
Helping to give this whole thing some weight is Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer who uses her expertise at juggling accents to make the duel role of Millie and her Free City alter ego Molotov Girl as vital as making the whole film work as anyone else involved in the entire production. With Stranger Things allum Joe Keery and Lil Rel Howery as Guy’s adorable best buddy, er, Buddy providing able backup, it’s profoundly strange that Taika Watiti’s megalomaniac CEO Antwon falls a little flat.
Still, the action is spectacularly glib and glibly spectacular (because of course it is, it’s a Ryan Reynolds movie) and the climax goes for broke with the showstopping appearance of Guy’s Free City 2 upgrade, a mountainous version of himself dubbed “Dude” whose dialogue still hasn’t been finished yet (“Catchphrase!” Is his catchphrase for example) that Guy has to thwart with some Ready Player One style add-ons that cheekily take full advantage of the Disney/Fox merger that’ll either have you whooping or (if you’re the cynical type when it comes to shameless brand fusion) cringing a little…
A look over Shawn Levy’s cinematic output shows a number of features that could aggressively labelled “fine”, but with it’s concoction of big hearted characters and rousing visuals, the director finally has a movie under his belt that pushes all the right buttons on your gamepad of emotions that may not be as sophisticated as some of the films it’s nicking from but it hits a power upgrade when it comes to undemanding laughs.