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I Weep For Cinema

Free Guy (2021)

Video game movies are generally not very good. Which is sad because I love video games so much, and games try so hard to be movies more often than not as well. With cutscenes that attempt a more cinematic quality of deep field of view, sweeping camera movement and acting to convey the emotion of the characters… it seems like a movie would probably be easier than programing all these things. We have now entered the more meta version of gaming movies, where the development of games, and not games themselves are what the movies are about. Starting off with Grandma’s Boy in 2006, these movies focus on the crafting of a game and less with the game itself.

Free Guy is such a weird movie, but the premise is actually kinda interesting. Take an NPC (Non Playable Character, the movie repeats this several times) and explore what the life of these characters are like, and how one longs to break free of the pre-programed life he lives day in and day out… Well, kinda.

Ryan Reynolds plays the character of Guy, a NPC bank teller in the game called “Free City” a Free to Play/Paid for game (I’m actually not sure, the game acts like it’s free to play, but the sequel that is being released, Free City 2 says pre-order numbers are down… which wouldn’t make sense of a free to play game). Free City is so popular that it’s the most streamed game, which the movie got a few notable streamers and YouTubers to make a few cameos (which has become more and more common in movies lately), so you’ll see Ninja, or Jacksepticeye yell and scream and talk about the game in the movie, which seems like there are definitely people out there who would eat this up, but this does nothing for me, as it’s just marketing for both the movie and the streamers. Seeing Ninja on screen just breaks the immersion of the film and makes me go “oh right, well that dude just made a few million more dollars because he’s famous”. 

Millie who goes by the name of MolotovGirl in the game was once a well known developer, and her and her co-dev “Keys” sold their code to the publisher/Dev of Free City. But Millie is actually in the middle of a lawsuit that says their original code is used in this massively popular game, so she is on the hunt for evidence of the code. Sadly her and Keys had a falling out and Keys actually works that the developer, muddying the waters of their friendship. 

So as Guy starts to question his existence and wish for more to life than just the same thing, he meets MolotovGirl and can’t stop thinking about her, and ends up interacting with “players” or people who where sunglasses in the game, and ends up taking a pair for himself. And when he puts the glasses on, he’s basically turned into a character. Now he has all the opportunities that a normal real world person has, and can complete in events and gain money and earn stats and increase his level. 

Guy follows and meets up with MolotovGirl and she explains that he needs to level up if he wants to talk to her more, so he does, in a montage, which is fairly decent. We see Guy attempt the same events and gain more money and basically become a high level character. And all the while, in the real world, he’s making headlines as he interacts with some players, who are streamers, and gains attention as a person who plays the game as a good guy. 

And this one is a big issue for me. They don’t explain the game of Free City very well in the movie. In the movie, Free City is displayed as Grand Theft Auto, but in GTA you mostly play as characters who were criminals, but want to get away from that lifestyle, only to be dragged back into a life of crime, usually to help out and save friends or families… very rarely are you actually playing a full on bad guy. And the movie doesn’t really explain that everyone who plays the game is basically just playing the sandbox version of GTA and trying to kill, steal and just be plain ol’ bad. It was just something that didn’t make much sense, because when Guy starts doing events, he’s praised for playing the game as a good guy, but still hurts and kills people. 

The movie’s main protagonist is Antwon the owner and creator of Free City. He’s a crazy character that really is just obnoxious and the movie just pushes his character into absurd levels of “No one actually acts like that in real life” He screams, yells, berates his employees and throws hissy fits… and that’s even without his actual dialogue, which feels like it was written by someone who read a Kotaku article about developers mistreating employees. It just feels way too off and he comes across as a cartoon character. 

Eventually Millie and Keys find out that Guy is actually a NPC that has their original AI code built into him so that’s why he was acting out and behaving so differently than others. His programming would allow him to start learning and branching out to have different paths than his original loop. 

But they have to find a piece of evidence to prove that the code is stolen and used. Which is the last act of the movie. 

Millie, Keys and Guy only have a small window to be able to find the evidence, as the sequel Free City 2 is launching in 24 hours with no backwards compatibility and once the new game is live, the original game dies (none of this would actually happen, and dev teams wouldn’t be working on both a new game and supporting the old game at the same time… just another “wait, that’s not how that would happen” moments)

Antwon realizes that Guy is ruining the pre-order sales numbers (nope, that wouldn’t happen either) so he tells the art department to deploy the new character that is currently working but not fully read (Art departments are not programmers, nor would they be able to do this) So now Guy has to fight his new buff doppelganger called “Dude”. While Dude is this massive dumb charater with Ryan Reynolds face, and his dialoge is all temporary holder text, he still is a big problem for Guy. And then we get a fight where guy can now use a few weapons from popular IPs, such as Captain America’s shield (complete with Chris Evans cameo) and a hulk hand and a lightsaber (complete with Star Wars theme needle drop) and a gravity gun and portal gun. 

Once Dude is defeated by guy putting the glasses on him and he has a sensory overload and runs off chasing powerups, Antwon goes full on evil villain and starts taking an axe to the games servers in the first floor of the game studio…. Ok, let me stop for a moment….

Taking an axe to game servers not only would bring the game offline instantly, not some weird Thanos infinity gauntlet, but also would probably kill Antwon by electrocution, he also is completely destroying the game and servers for the new game…. It just made no sense other than to make him such a stupid and evil villian that he’ll stop at nothing to thwart the good guys… it just seemed way too far fetched. 

In the end, Millie is able to talk him out of destroying the last server so they can save their original code and also keep Guy from disappearing (because he’s the world’s first real AI, which would give them a Nobel Peace Prize), in exchange she lets him have all rights to the Free City name (which he already would) and any and all sequels in perpetuity. Well, after the stunt he pulls, that means jack because he goes to jail (it’s all wrapped up so quickly and doesn’t really get explained very well at all).

Last we see that Millie and Keys become a couple and Guy lives in a new world, free of a pre-programmed life for him and all his friends. And everyone lives happily ever after. The End.

Free Guy is a movie that wants to use a video game world as a setting, but isn’t really a video game movie. It switches back and forth from real world to game world too frequently and without any way of discerning which is which. Half of the times you see a news segment in the movie, you can’t tell if you are watching a news segment from what’s happening in the real world where they are talking about Blue Shirt Guy in the game, or if you are watching a news segment in the game talking about Blue Shirt Guy in the game, which is real life to them…. It just is a bit confusing and disjointed.

I ended up liking the movie much more than I thought I was going to, and it held my attention the entire time. Really I think the major issue with the game is that it’s just such a filler type of movie that doesn’t really do or say anything all that interesting. The whole “Is AI alive or not” has been done countless times now, and done WAY better pretty much everywhere. Take WestWorld as an example, that’s a great example of the line between real life and programmed machinery where the line is really blurry. Free Guy just seems to be a fun time waster and that’s about it, which I can see some credit in, but not much at all. It’s a forgettable movie that I’ll never watch in my lifetime again and it’s a bummer, because I think focusing on the game world for the full time and pulling out to the real world at the end, and allowing Guy to be some robot who can experience real life as an android would be much better. But it was a fun movie to kill 2 hours and that I guess is a win in my book.