Streamer: Aussie cinemas from August 12 (NSW in September, we hope)
Length: 115 minutes
Most of us have grown up with video games in our lives. Even if you’re not a fan yourself, you’re likely to have siblings or significant others who are obsessed with the damn things. In our modern world, they’re simply part of the landscape.
That said, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about NPCs (non-player characters), those figures who mill about in the background, their entire existence designed to make the player feel like they inhabit a real world.
Well, Free Guy might just change all that, with its message that we players might want to give NPCs a chance.
Free Guy is the story of mild-mannered Guy (Ryan Reynolds), an NPC who works as a bank teller in Free City, which is basically a slightly exaggerated version of Grand Theft Auto Online.
Guy is an affable chap, and quite happy with his job despite the multiple bank robberies that occur every day, but he can’t help but wonder if there’s something more he could be getting out of life. Like, maybe, someone to love?
Enter Millie (username: Molotov Girl), a player who Guy immediately falls in love with. At first she’s dismissive of the attention, figuring he’s either a hacker wearing a bogus skin or a glitching NPC, but she soon realises there’s much more to Guy than a charming smile and a blue shirt.
Of course, Millie has a few secrets of her own, including an agenda against Free City, and its extremely douchey creator Antwan (Taika Waititi) who she believes stole her code. Worse still, it looks like Free City is about to go offline, permanently, to make way for Free City 2.
Put simply, Guy’s world is about to end and no one believes he’s even real!
The concept of video game characters having or obtaining sentience is nothing new. Tron did it back in 1982, Star Trek: The Next Generation was constantly dealing with it on the holodeck and even Russell Crowe played a malevolent VR baddie chasing after Denzel Washington in 1995’s Virtuosity.
Free Guy doesn’t add an enormous amount of substance to the concept, but it does have a boatload of absolute charm-machine Ryan Reynolds. Guy is basically the opposite of RR’s other big character Deadpool, offering non-violence, positivity and not a sliver of sarcasm.
It’s fair to say this is absolutely Reynold’s film, he injects energy and vitality into the weaker moments and shines the brightest in the stronger ones. Jodie Comer, who is so superb in Killing Eve, is an appealing enough co-star, but sadly isn’t given as much to do.
The supporting cast are solid as well, with Lil Rel Howery delightful as Guy’s bestie Buddy and Joe Keery exuding wide-eyed geniality as an employee of Antwan.
The only dud note in the casting, and it pains us to say this because we’re such fans, is Taika Waititi as Antwan. Whether it’s the script letting him down, or Taika just being unable to realistically play anything other than delightful, his take on Antwan just doesn’t quite land.
The script also fails to stay consistently imaginative, leaving the second half feeling flatter than the first and abandoning some of the more interesting concepts.
In practical terms, this means the film eventually feels held together largely by the strength of Ryan Reynold’s charm and the slick production design, but happily both those elements are very robust indeed.
Look, there’s a clumsy romance that probably didn’t need to make the final cut, and some shameless schilling of Disney products that are a little eye-rolling, but ultimately Free Guy is as amiable and charming as its main character.
It’s unlikely to leave a lasting impression, but Free Guy is a fun, if shallow, bit of colourful escapism for those of us lucky enough to be allowed to see movies in the cinema again.
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