Early examples of Hollywood’s engagement with the world of video games can usually be put into one of two categories. The first is a movie that, for the most part, takes place inside a video game: think Tron, where the protagonists are zapped inside of a gladiatorial computer game and forced to fight to the death. Then, throughout the ’90s, the rise in popularity of the home console brought with it a slew of straight adaptations of video games; Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter, Super Mario Bros et all. These adaptations tended to take themselves much less seriously than Tron, emphasizing action, sound effects and over-the-top mythologies. Whilst these adaptations may not have kept the critics happy, they understood that at least part of the point of their existence was to tap into a specific demographic of moviegoers.
Free Guy is a video game movie that sets itself apart from those that have gone before it. It’s a one hundred per cent goofy, slapstick, fun adventure that also makes occasional points about desensitizing violence, misogyny and other examples of ugliness that has plagued the gaming industry in the last decade. Impressively, its succeeds in both of these aims on a large scale.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a bank teller who discovers the world he lives in isn’t real; he’s a non-playing character (NPC) within Free City, the latest blockbuster game designed by Soonami Games’ eccentric head developer Antwan (Taika Watiti). Within the lawless world of Free City, NPCs are nothing more than cannon fodder for players who slap, maim, kidnap or shoot them to gain points and complete missions. Until now, Guy and everyone around him, including his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), go about their pre-programmed functions on loop for days and nights, but a life-changing discovery sets Guy on a new path.
This life-changing discovery comes to Guy courtesy of Millie (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery). Millie and Keys are trying to find proof that Antwan stole the code of Free City off a game the duo had made called Free Life. In their game, players didn’t shoot characters but interacted with other AIs in a virtual environment.When Guy decides to ‘level up’ like a real playable character, defying Antwan, his world expands with an explosion of video-game goodness: dazzling VFX sequences and nods to films like Inception, Captain America and The Lego Movie. Director Shawn Levy knows that these thrill-a-minute comedy sequences are the film’s mainstay, and he executes them beautifully. Scenes such as Guy discovering leaping shoes, his encounter with “God mode”, and the bubble suit are all hilarious examples of joyfully written moments where the director extracts maximum mileage.
The cast is on top form throughout. Guy has been explicitly written for Ryan Reynolds, who plays the character as kind of like the opposite of Deadpool, a gratuitously polite antidote to a gratuitously sarcastic anti-hero. This is carried off by Reynolds’ characteristically confident, energetic performance. Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) is impressive, too, as gaming genius Millie Rusk. Her story arc and Antwan’s credit stealing reflect recent headlines of workplace scandals that have plagued the gaming industry, such as some organisations’ toxic and misogynistic culture.
Taika Watiti is on form in his usual improvised style, bringing the character of Antwan to life in a natural comedic way. Antwan is, to put it bluntly, a self-absorbed hack with delusions of grandeur, and there is great joy in watching him try and fail.
Free Guy is a hit on many levels and benefits from some clever cameos, including a hilarious one by Channing Tatum. Stylish and confident in its humour, Disney’s latest blockbuster, a hit in cinemas, is a brilliant addition to Disney+ and should be at the top of everyone’s watch lists this weekend.
Free Guy is available to stream on Disney+ in the United Kingdom this Wednesday, September 29th.
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