What if all the non-playable characters (NPCs) in video games – the background characters controlled by the game's artificial intelligence (AI) rather than by a gamer – suddenly broke out and began taking control of their own destinies? Would anyone play a video game that awards points for being nice rather than for racking up a massive kill count?
These are the thoughts and inspirations behind Shawn Levy’s outrageously inventive new film called Free Guy that is equal parts action, humor, and emotion while also having plenty to say about free will and the importance of taking control of your own life.
If that sounds too heavy, it’s really not. Free Guy is a super fun film that depicts two worlds playing out simultaneously: one taking place inside a fictitious video game that follows Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a meek but cheerful bank teller and his security guard best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery, Get Out) who suddenly discover they are background characters in the ultra-violent, open-world game of Free City; the other follows what’s going on outside the game in the real world as we meet Millie (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve) and Keys (Joe Keery, TV’s Stranger Things), a pair of gamers who believe the AI code they wrote has been stolen and incorporated into Free City’s action.
As the story swaps back and forth between the two worlds, we begin to realize that each is connected to the other, not only through a direct correlation of characters, actors, and a shared timeline, but by an emotional attachment as well. And that is where the script from Zak Penn (Ready Player One) and Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles) finds its biggest strengths. Not only do the pair excel in world-building and storytelling, their sweet love story packs quite a wallop as well.
In fact, the attraction and subsequent relationship between Guy and a sexy female NPC who calls herself MolotovGirl (also Comer), actually drives the story forward as she not only helps him navigate the ins and outs of the game, but also convinces him that neither he, nor the world in which they live, are real. As a result of their relationship and his newfound consciousness, Guy begins to take on a more active role as an idealist and a nice person in their Uber-violent city. In other words, Guy is writing his own story. Perhaps the nice guy can win after all.
Free Guy is a very busy film visually with every pixel packed full of CGI explosions, otherworldly characters, and an endless barrage of action sequences. Definitely not for the faint of heart or those with photosensitivity issues. Though not a prerequisite to be a gamer, those in the know will most certainly appreciate the rat-a-tat homages to some of the industry’s most popular games such as Fortnight, Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario Brothers, and others.
To their credit, the film’s makers never shy away from the darker side of the industry or the abusive nature of the gaming culture. Filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), goes all in with an over-the-top performance as Antoine, the villainous CEO of the company which makes Free City. To what lengths is a gaming company willing to go in order to preserve its financial viability? It’s worse than you may think. By moving from the background to the front, Guy is able to expose all the outrageous elements of the gaming community while simultaneously proving that life is what we make of it. As the closing credits roll, we are left with the thought that, perhaps, after all, people might indeed be interested in a video game about a nice guy.
(Released by Disney/20th Century and rated “PG-13” for strong fantasy violence throughout, language and crude/suggestive references.)
Review also posted on www.franksreelreviews.com