Date Posted: 17/11/21
Released in 2021 Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds as an NPC (that’s Non-Player Character in case you have been living in a cave for the last few decades) in a video game who stars to develop his own identity. Alongside him we have Jodie Comer as Millie Rusk aka Molotov Girl, Joe Keery as Walter “Keys” McKeys and Taika Waititi as Antwan. Other famous faces crop up in cameos including Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman and Channing Tatum, several well known YouTubers and Twitch streamers also appear.
You know when you are playing a game and NPCs are either cannon fodder enemies, just background people designed to make the environment feel alive or copy pasted models that you see a million of as you play?? Well Free Guy asks the question: what happens if those NPCs had personalities and were aware of just how insane their world truly is. Free City is basically a rip off of Grand Theft Auto featuring an enclosed city in which players are free to rob banks, steal cars, cause destruction and stick their fingers up at authority.
The film’s premise is a tad misleading from the trailers, and so let me bring you up to speed on what is happening.
The film starts with a narration in which we are told that there are “sunglasses people” that are able to do anything and everything. They are the Gods of the city, forever doing cool stuff, and every resident wants to be one of them. WE then meet Guy (Reynolds), an NPC works a bank teller in Free City with his best friend and security officer Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). Guy is an upbeat person and during one of the bank’s morning robberies, he tells Buddy that he longs to meet a special someone, a dream that seems to be forever out of his reach. On his way to work the following day he passes a mysterious woman who is humming his favourite song, and becomes immediately fascinated by her, knowing that she is the one he has been looking for. He takes a pair of sunglasses and sees the city through the player’s HUD (Heads Up Display), realising for the first time that the world is not what he thought it was.
The woman is Molotov Girl, a character in the Free City online game, who is searching the game for evidence that the game creator Antwan, stole base code from a game that she and her former partner Keys developed.
Guy’s interest in her is mistaken by both her and Keys (who now works for Antwan) as the actions of a human player that has hacked the game, and given themselves a random NPC skin. Believing that he is another human player, Molotov Girl tells him that he needs to level up, at which point “[they] will talk”.
Not wishing to hurt others or do bad things, Guy instead starts doing good in the game, foiling robberies, returning stolen items, and his actions begin to attract the attention of not only the game’s player base but Antwan himself. Guy becomes known as “Blue Shirt Guy” the player who levels up without doing hurting anyone else. Antwan is not happy with the “hacker” that is getting too much attention and demands that he be found and banned from the game.
Molotov Girl and Keys are about to discover that Guy is not a human player in an NPC skin, and the truth is far more incredible than anyone could believe...
In all honesty I figured that this game was going to be about an NPC that realises they are in a video game and uses their new found power to protect the other NPCs, take over the world, and fight back against the players that treat NPCs as annoying bugs that can be swatted in their hundreds without fear or consequence. Free Guy is not that. What it is, is a film about the development of Artificial Intelligence, with Keys and Molotov Girl’s original game (that the base code has come from) was all about NPCs that are able to develop their own lives, identities, and evolve from what they were.
The problem is that stories about machines that develop intelligence has been done time and time again, think Short Circuit and The Matrix. However, an NPC that realises they are in a video game and uses that knowledge to fight back against the players that rampage through the streets in tanks and rocket powered cars, that has not been done before.
So the story itself is tired and predictable. Naturally Molotov Girl’s suspicions that their code is part of the base game is proven to be correct and Guy rises up to be the hero of the game with the world realising that he is a new breed of AI. Therefore, if the story isn’t the reason to bring you to the film, then what else does it have??
I think if you are a keen gamer then you are going to see so much that is all too familiar, especially if you play GTA Online. Some of the best things I saw in the film were happening in the background with players or “sunglasses people” jumping into walls, or combat rolling everywhere, as players in the Real World figure out the controls. An NPC whilst a background character in a game like GTA or Free City is just there, they respawn if they die, whenever Guy is killed he just wakes back up in his bed. I did like the amount of game references that the film has and the fact that trying to be a nice person in a game like this is a very difficult thing to do.
I enjoyed Waititi’s performance as Antwan, and he seems to be enjoying himself. Plus he is the steryotpical Triple-A games designer. If you are in anyway involves in the Gamer Scene then you know about the likes of games like Star War Battlefront and Battlefront II in which micro-payments form the core of the game linking to a person’s ability to progress. Or online games like Titanfall or The Division that are online only but have no plot or story, or goal you are working towards. Or games consoles that are not backwards compatable so if you buy a new one then you might as well throw all of your games in the bin because you are never going to be able to play with them again. Antwan is the embodiment of every shit policy that Games Publishers have. They release bug-filled games intending to just patch them in the future, or just bring out a new game later on. They are interested in money and not supporting the game they have developed. Hackers are free to run wild on the survers whilst people who uncover money glitches or XP exploits are banned...and so it goes on. Shady practices that harm gaming as a form of entertainment run wild in the industry and Antwan is the likes of Sony, EA, Ubisoft and so on.
At the end of the day Free Guy is alright, but it is only alright. It is nothing we haven’t seen before and that is a pity. A film about innocent NPCs deciding they have had enough of getting blown up, run over, shot and so on that would have been fun and interesting. The birth of a new AI, that is not.
Reynolds naturally does enough to keep you entertained, and there are not really bad performances from any of the actors. But the concept just is not engaging. The cameos are fun, but generally this film is basically a more basic version of Ready Player One. It is not a bad film, it is just not what it could have been, which leaves me with no choice but to leave my Thumb Horizontal.
6/10 – The film is alright, it has some fun moments, but the overall story is wafer thin and is nothing that the audience can engage with. Reynolds gives a decent performance but he is not able to raise the film above the mediocre plot which is a real shame because an unknown NPC turning into a badass could have been so enjoyable to see.