BY MATT TUCK
On its surface, Free Guy may appear to be another movie looking to profit off the teenage video game crowd, but it’s actually more The Truman Show than Fortnite.
Let’s be honest; video game movies, whether they’re game adaptations or just doing off-brand impressions, are almost universally terrible. If Martin Scorcese hates Marvel Movies, then the list of video game failures will bring him to tears. From the name brands of Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat, Doom, Assassin’s Creed, and Warcraft to the game-inspired Gamer, being a video-game movie carries is a film's albatross like no other.
Although not directly based on any specific game, Free Guy faced an uphill battle for credibility in the eyes of most moviegoers outside their teens. Despite any reservations you may have about a “gamer movie,” there is more to Free Guy that sets it apart from its predecessors.
The movie is unabashedly based on the online multiplayer world of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto Online. From the opening scenes to the superfluous YouTuber cameos, the movie is marketed toward a younger crowd, which is understandable. Where the movie defies expectations is its heart.
Taking a page from The Truman Show and Pleasantville, the plot revolves around what is more or less a target-practice dummy for the GTA copycat of the film, Free City. Known only as Guy, he is the blissfully ignorant NPC (non-playable character for those who don’t speak video game lingo). He’s all sunshine and rainbows despite the chaotic and violent world around him. In what is obviously a commentary on modern world culture, Guy and his fellow NPCs are so accustomed to the violence that being involved in a bank robbery or getting run over by a car that is being driven on the sidewalk is hardly anything newsworthy.
One day, Guy suddenly steps out of his pre-programmed role and gradually becomes self-aware. He falls in love with Millie, an online player who secretly is a programmer looking for her stolen code inside the walls of Free City. As Guy looks to gain experience to level up and get Millie’s attention, he defies the norms of Free City and works to protect the other NPCs of his virtual world, making him a “good” Guy.
For any fan of the GTA series - or any of Rockstar’s other massive role-playing games, like the Red Dead Redemption series, for that matter - the virtual landscape of Free City is unmistakable. The creative team behind Free Guy was clearly well versed in the tropes and cliches of GTA and every first-person shooter ever created. From parachuting into a sports car to pulling a rocket launcher out of thin air, the filmmakers poked fun at all the standard elements of GTA and its many lookalikes. They also didn’t miss the opportunity to crack a few jokes about the perception of online gamers; from guys in their 20s living at home and making YouTube videos to children with filthy language, no gamer stereotype was left unscathed.
The jokes hit their marks for which they were aimed, namely, the YouTube generation. There’s plenty of edgy toilet humor, and loads of references that teenage gamers will adore.
Ryan Reynolds played exactly the role you would expect from Ryan Reynolds, delivering his trademark off-color quips and one-liners that will take a second viewing to catch them all. The standout was Taika Waititi, who took a break from the director’s chair to portray the film’s real-world antagonist, Antoine. As usual, he played the role as over the top and excessive, and it made for plenty of laughs. The only complaint is that the comedy was so good that despite the story, Antoine was charming and nonthreatening, which made it hard to get behind seeing him humiliated and defeated. Still, for what was essentially a kid’s movie at heart, that is acceptable.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Whether or not you are a gamer (or even over 40 like me), Free Guy is a clever adventure with a positive message of coexisting and taking a break from the chaos around us to simply enjoy life. It is not a modern classic by any stretch, but it is a fun way to spend two hours of your day.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.