Directed By Shawn Levy
Starring – Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi
The Plot – a bank teller (Reynolds) who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, decides to become the hero of his own story, one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way before it is too late.
Rated PG-13 for adult language, crude/suggestive references, and strong fantasy violence
– Charming ensemble. Even while emoting as video game avatar’s, there’s a rich level of authenticity and vibrancy to the performances brought to life from Reynolds and Comer, respectively. Part of it does in fact stem from the familiarity in delivery from Reynolds that he can practically play in his sleep at this point, but there’s an equally underlining layer of tragedy to the character that helps to balance the overtly comedic tones with a sprinkle of sentimentality, allowing Reynolds the freedom as Guy to explore a buffet of emotions and quirks to resonate within the character. For Comer, it’s the physicality and cool factor etched into a badass female heroine that we unfortunately don’t get enough of in the video game universe that is most appealing, especially in scenes shared with Reynolds, where the two share no shortage of palpable chemistry between them. In addition to the two leads, Lil Rel Howery puts in some much-needed utility work as Guy’s best friend, Taika Waititi has the time of his life as a one-dimensional-but-effective antagonist, and Joe Keery carries the heavy load of the real world subplot, which could’ve easily fallen by the wayside against the fantasy and spectacle of a world of escapism rivaling his story beats.
– Breathtaking imagery. The craftsmanship of the movie is littered constantly throughout a production value that radiates energy and artistic flare in the imagination of a fantastical world accordingly. Most notable here are the combination of detailed set designs and special effects work that grants a three-dimensional lived-in shine to the various landscapes that our characters interact with, all the while omitting much of the hollow enveloping that frequently stems from movies with an abundance of computer generated backdrops. Here, the depth is most certainly attained with a meticulous balance between real world vibrancy and computer-generated influence to carve out a uniqueness that is all the more engaging for how it visually lures audiences to its many artistic elements, giving us some of the best and most believable special effects designs that I have ever seen in a video game deemed property that is catered for the big screen.
– Iconography. Cinematographer George Richmond is a master behind the lens in conjuring up some of the more ambitiously memorable images of the 21st century, and his work on “Free Guy” is certainly no exception to his proven record. Similar to his work on “The Kingsmen: Secret Service” or “Rocket Man”, Richmond emits slow motion captivity and near perfect framing to the many flourishes of color that feel ripped from a comic book. Likewise, it’s the capability of his free-flowing movements behind the lens that bottle the madness and mayhem of this unpredictable world, but in a video game kind of captivity that immerses audience as one of the many avatars moving fluidly throughout the game, without incorporating it as a POV first-person gimmick. There’s very little unnecessary shaking camera enhancements to the many intense action sequences that could’ve easily gotten away from him, but feel all the more detectable in grasp because of the sturdy grip that George attains in commanding interpretation from an eye-level perspective with the audience.
– Clever inserts. Without question, video game audiences will gain the most from this film, and a lot of the reasons stem from a series of quirks within its presentation that mirror those of a video game in live form. Aspects like hollow speech patterns, character body movements, and even background glitching help to cement a believability to its texture that makes this world as virtually inescapable as the avatar’s enclosed within it, making this feel as distinctly diverse when contrasted with the real world that switches up occasionally from those invested outside of the game in reality. It makes for an engaging experience, but more than that one that will enhance future watches of the film that audiences will undoubtedly use to measure how certain elements of the gaming world measures up to the fictional world that its production so frequently pulls from, giving us not only one of the best in cinematic video game properties, but also one that feels the most synonymous because of the intimate ingredients that it often doesn’t overlook.
– Thought-provoking. Did you ever expect a two word summary like that with a Ryan Reynolds vehicle taking place in a video game world? Whether you did or not, “Free Guy” is at its best to me personally when it challenges the conventions associated with existentialism, and how the definition of the word itself feels open to interpretation for the unique situation that these artificial characters face with engaging in a routine day after day. The script itself is wise enough to not spoon-feed its intentions too forcefully, instead leaving plenty of room for contrast with our own daily lives that I did pick up on, allowing myself to see matters the way Guy sees them while learning something new each day. On top of it, the overwhelming tragedy associated with both Guy’s existence, as well as the story’s triangular love story presented more thematic pulse than I was honestly expecting, and proves that this movie has plenty to say about the world beyond the world, with each sharing no shortage of surprising similarities to blur the line of realism seamlessly.
– Surprises. This aspect certainly pertains to the depth of the storytelling, which I previously heralded, but more importantly towards the remarkable amount of celebrity cameos that certainly proves Reynolds has plenty of friends in high places. There will certainly be no spoiling here, but what I will say is that each of them are conjured up in imaginative ways that not only further enhances the accuracy of the movie’s highly consistent comic muscle, but also requires the audience to pay attention faithfully or some of them will pass by with very little indication. My favorite pertains to a crossing into another, or perhaps many other, cinematic universes, with one recognizable superhero wanting his property back, but each of them materialize with the kind of spontaneity that speaks volumes to the unpredictable element that somehow escaped the overtly revealing marketing trailers that spoiled a bit too much, now that I’ve seen the film.
– Duel arc’s. When this movie isn’t being charmed by charisma or Reynolds, or the carefree imagination of its artificial properties, it calls upon reality to balance the captivity of the audience, leading to some surprisingly beneficial results. In this aspect, I expected the Joe Keery and Taika Waititi arc of the film to be the obvious weakness, but it not only allowed much-needed time away from the video game to keep its world and stakes fresh in the minds of its audience, but also supplanted with it a resoundingly impactful story that paid off tremendously to what takes shape inside of the game itself. For my money, it’s the technicians behind the game that are fleshed out most thoroughly with the film’s characterization, leading to many insightful examinations into life, love, and escapism that the film sifts through effectively on its way to earning every minute of its 105 minute run time.
– Wet blanket. To say the musical cues in this film were annoying would be dramatically underselling their incorporations, so instead I will say that each of them served as boisterously unnecessary elements of production that are only meant to sell records and accommodate trailers. One or two of these are easily forgivable, but when it gets to the halfway point in the movie, and we’ve heard seven or eight of these by this point, it starts to get frustratingly repetitious as it settles for one of the lowest common forms of humor that relies on your nostalgia to sell their impact. The songs themselves, minus Marriah Carey’s “Fantasy”, add nothing of depth or resounding value to the scenes and sequences they accompany, and the volume control of each of them are so ear-piercingly loud that they often override the value in tremendous sound design that illustrated stakes and circumstance relentlessly. It’s a continuing cliche that I wish comedies would steer clear from, and one that led to several uncomfortable cringes from the stink of desperation that stems from their arrival.
– Derivative. There’s no shortage of compliments that I can afford to this screenplay, but one that “Free Guy” will never become saddled with is the element of originality, which goes absent from the spectrum of this film. There were certain parts of the film that reminded me of “Dead Alive”, certain parts of the movie that reminded me of “Ready Player One”, and most evidently, whole sequences of the structure that was ripped from “The Truman Show”. In fact, when you look at everything that takes shape during the third act, it’s easy to interpret that screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn may have watched the Jim Carrey classic a time or two before picking up the pen into their own fantastically staged world, with a protagonist fighting to make something of his meaningless existence. Sound familiar? It should, and it’s the biggest factor in why this good film can never be a great one, for the way it shamefully borrows from better films in an effort to play it safe with what’s proven.
– Suspension of disbelief. For a movie that takes time and detail fleshing out the rules and aspects of its video game world fruitfully, it’s the engagement to the real world that left plenty more to be desired. Most of it is in the lack of logic with the mechanics of the real world that doesn’t line up accordingly to its impact in correspondence to the video game world, but there’s also a responsibility to point towards the many instances of plot convenience with the programmers, who somehow know absolutely nothing about what’s taking place in the game until the movie absolutely requires them to. This element served as a speed bump to my growing engagement to the film, forcefully ripping my immersion during a series of instances within the destruction of the game’s technology that any idiot who has spent five minutes in video games understands doesn’t actually work that way.
My Grade: 7/10 or C+