Free Guy, by Albert W. Vogt III

We have almost reached the end of the run of movies that were supposed to come out during the height of the lockdown.  What is left?  The only one that comes to mind is the new James Bond film No Time to Die.  One thing that this protracted wait for films for which we have seen endless trailers is that it helps build anticipation.  That concept cuts two ways.  On the one hand, the buzz that surrounds the release of certain titles tends to grow the number of people wanting to see it.  On the other, how often do the things we look forward to live up to our expectations?  I speak from deep, varied, and painful experience when I say that the expectations placed on ourselves and others are unfair for everyone.  When watching previews for Free Guy going back to last year, it looked like it might be fun.  And then we were not allowed to go to the cinema.  When they reopened, studios were reluctant to put out the big names initially.  We can talk all we want about safety and COVID surges as motivations for home releases.  I also do not begrudge anyone for deciding that what is best for them is to stay at home.  Still, movie theaters exist, they are owned by people (I think), and they have employees with bills to pay.  Now that we are getting blockbusters again at our local theaters, is the product worth the perceived risk or hype?

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) in Free Guy is a non-playable character (NPC) in a multi-player online video game called Free City.  If you are at all familiar with the Grand Theft Auto series of games, then you got the idea.  If not, just know that players are dropped into an urban landscape where they are given access to weapons and the ability to basically do whatever they want.  It is the free-for-all you can imagine.  For Guy, the mayhem that goes on is normal.  He wakes up, puts on his bank teller uniform, grabs a coffee (medium, two sugars) on his way to work, and then settles in for a typical day of endless bank heists.  Aside from the orgy of crimes taking place around him, he is comfortable, earnest, and enthusiastic.  There is one thing missing from his life, and that is a girlfriend.  This desire gets a boost when he sees Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer).  There is one problem: Molotov Girl is what Guy and his bank security guard friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) refer to as a “Sunglasses Person.”  In Free City, these are the players, and Molotov Girl is on a special mission.  Meeting a mysterious figure in a back alley (voiced by Hugh Jackman), she discovers that there is a secret location hidden within the game.  As it turns out, Molotov Girl in real life is a programmer named Millie.  She and her friend Keys (Joe Keery) developed their own game, and she believes that the makers of Free City stole their coding. Unfortunately, Keys now works for that company, called Soonami, and owned by the eccentric Antwan (Taika Waititi). Millie decided to fight Antwan through the courts, but Keys took a position with Soonami and signed a non-disclosure agreement.  What this last part means is that while he sympathizes with his old friend, he cannot help her.  She thinks that the proof she needs is in the game, and this previously unknown level is the clue.  Annoyingly at first for her, every time she is in the game she is now being followed by Guy, who wants to get to know her.  When they first talk, she takes him for another player, particularly since he took a pair of sunglasses off a would-be bank robber.  Once he has these glasses on, he can see the streets around him as the players do, with its access to missions, which leads to money and guns.  Yet, because he is still unaware that he is part of a video game, she assumes that he is a noob (slang for video game novice) and brushes him off as not being on her level.  To get there, and partially motivated by her advice, Guy begins performing good deeds all over the game.  Doing so is decidedly not usual Free City behavior, and it starts to earn him notoriety as the “Blue Shirt Guy” from fans all over the world.  Like Millie, they all believe him to be a human player, but his identity remains unknown.  When he finally reunites with Millie, he has now become an expert in the game, even if he still does not entirely understand it.  His dedication impresses her, and they start to draw closer to one another.  In the real world, Keys begins to sour on Antwan, particularly when his boss is rushing the sequel to Free City.  Hence, he decides to help Millie, and the revelation of this secret level is part of what leads him to believing, too, that Antwan stole from him.  Keys is not Antwan’s only concern.  Guy’s behavior begins to sour the public on Free City, making them question the morality of their behavior even in a digital environment.  Antwan’s first solution is to reset the game, which he believes will return Guy back to his normal function.  This works until he kisses Millie (more on this later), which restores all his memories of the things he had done and their relationship.  Antwan’s next move is to launch the sequel and basically delete the original.  Millie and Keys respond by getting Guy (who they now see as an artificial intelligence) to lead the other NPCs to the secret level, which is their original game.  To do so, Guy must fight a collapsing city, the result of Antwan physically smashing the servers, and a dimwitted, over-muscled version of himself known as Dude.  In the end, he makes it to the game and Millie is able to stop Antwan in the real world from destroying the last server containing their first game and one last bit of Free City.  And because Guy is an artificial intelligence, he encourages her to renew her relationship with Keys.

Free Guy got remarkably good reviews from most outlets.  I thought it was alright.  It is a somewhat original concept, at least cinematically, but told in a straight-forward and predictable manner.  A small part of me thought they were going to find a way for Guy and Millie to be together in the end, but ultimately that would not have made the most sense.  After all, Guy is basically a computer program.  He is somewhat similar to Samantha in Her (2013).  While Guy technically has a body, it is inside a video game and thus not something tangible in the real world.  Now, I have never claimed to be a computer expert, but I am not sure how a kiss (even if it is simply data) can unlock supposedly erased memory.  Perhaps there is some computer programmer out there who can imagine such a scenario, but it seemed the weakest moment in the film.  I am not complaining, necessarily.  It is a sweet, romantic moment that worked well with the plot.  You see, Guy had been programmed by Keys as a love letter to his unrequited love, Millie.  Put another way, he was designed to love her.  Thus, while technically speaking a smooch triggering data recovery might seem silly, in the end it works.  I guess Casablanca (1942) got it wrong: a kiss is not just a kiss.  Regardless, the best thing you can say about the film, even if I did not find it all as amazing or innovative as the rest of humanity apparently, is that it works.

There is also a lot to unpack Faith-wise when it comes to Free Guy.  There are a few God jokes slipped in that I grimaced at a little, particularly when Guy confuses Antwan with God when Millie first describes Soonami’s owner to him.  What I would like to focus on, though, is how Guy behaves specifically, and what that means for video games in general.  There have been times in when I have played something similar to Free City, and as mentioned earlier the obvious comparison is Grand Theft Auto.  If the title does not say it all, it is a game where your main purpose is stealing cars.  It is as simple as making your avatar walk up to a vehicle and pushing a button.  It does not matter whether or not the car, truck, police cruiser, taxi, motorcycle, ambulance, school bus, etc. is standing still or occupied.  If it is occupied, your character simply tosses out the driver and that vehicle is now yours.  That is the case, at least, until you either crash it beyond repair, arrested, or killed in some fashion.  While driving around, you do not have to follow any kind of logical traffic rules.  However, breaking them too much brings the attention of the police, and even more wrong-doing and you get the national guard.  You can also collect weapons and murder anyone you see, in the case the NPCs like Guy.  I used to play it simply for the entertainment of being able to do practically whatever I wanted in an open world.  It is just a video game, so the consequences were not real.  As I grew in my Faith, I began extending my moral compass into the games I played.  As there is little point to Grand Theft Auto other than being the best (worst?) criminal you can be, I decided to stop playing.  As such, what I like about Free Guy is how his behavior holds a mirror up to how others act in the game.  For me, I arrived at the conclusion that it is not okay to act like a monster in a fake world, so long as you are good in the real one.  Perhaps there are some that can handle such a divide, but I cannot.  I consider the games practice.  Maybe the film will make others question their video game habits?

Free Guy does raise some interesting moral questions, which appealed to my Faith.  As for the rest of the film, it was fine.  Maybe it is because I am more of a Deadpool (skirting the irony there), but I did not laugh a ton at Ryan Reynolds in this film.  It was okay, but nothing too special.  I did enjoy it when, while fighting Dude at the end, Guy is able to produce Captain America’s shield (much to Chris Evans’ chagrin) and a lightsaber.  Those were fun touches, as were the appearances of several famous video game players.  The only one I recognized was Ninja from Fortnite, but I am sure some of you might be familiar with the others.  Anyway, it is a perfectly serviceable movie.

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