Movie Review

Free Guy: Yeah… That’s How Video Games Work

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Free Guy is a movie that is, ostensibly, about an NPC (that’s Non-Player Character for the uninitiated) inside a video game who slowly comes to the realization about who and what he is. 

I’m going to try and keep this review on the rails. However, I might have to make a couple of disparaging asides. This is because if you’re watching Free Guy as an avid gamer, it seems entirely possible that no one on the movie’s production team understands how video games work. Hell, I would hazard a guess that they’re not even sure what video games are, given the egregious misrepresentations perpetrated throughout its runtime.

They’re just like The Matrix, right?

I will, however, try and balance my asides with some actual nice things to say about the movie.

Also: SPOILERS! For, like, the whole article. Because I tend to rant, and I can’t do that without over-explaining. 

Free City

The movie takes place, predominantly, in Free City, an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online game) that is something akin to Grand Theft Auto. In the game, players cause havoc by completing missions which, in this case, amounts to committing crimes. Players rob banks and bodegas. They steal cars in the middle of the street. And they pilot jets between the city’s skyscrapers.

Or “the Danger Zone,” as it’s sometimes called

Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) is an NPC and bank teller whose bank gets robbed several times a day by various players. This doesn’t bother him, or any of the other NPCs, because the gameplay loop of Free City is their lives. So, to them, the chaos caused by the players is just a matter of course. 

One day, when Guy is leaving work, he passes a Player who is singing a song that resonates deeply with him. Without hesitation, he turns to follow the player so that he can talk to her, thus breaking him from his predetermined path. 

Through the Looking Glass

Now, the biggest difference between the players and the NPCs of Free City is that players wear sunglasses and NPCs don’t. So, the NPCs imaginatively refer to the Players as “the sunglasses people.”

After failing to catch up to the singing player (Molotov Girl, played by Jodie Comer), Guy takes it upon himself to steal a pair of sunglasses so that he can talk to her.

Now, this is absolutely ludicrous for a few reasons. 

Not only is it ridiculous because he could steal the sunglasses… the fact that there are sunglasses at all is absolutely insane. This means that no matter how you design your character, it’s always going to have sunglasses of some kind. It also means that the developers of this game made it a requirement to have them on so that Player Characters can see the game as it truly is.

Looks right to me

Did I not mention that before? Yeah, the NPCs just see a normal world, and the only aberration seems to be the jerks who get to wear Ray-Bans. 

However, with the sunglasses on, Guy can see all of the UI elements and in-game markers that players can see. So, now that Guy is effectively a “sunglasses person,” he goes about using his newfound sight to find Molotov Girl.

Reasons

When Guy does finally catch up to her, she rebuffs him, saying that she doesn’t need the help of someone who is only level one (Read: Noob), and to come back when he breaks level one-hundred.

What follows is a montage of Guy “playing” the game so that he can level up. However, instead of running around killing people and robbing banks he opts to—Audible Gasp—help people. For some reason, his antics take off around the world because he’s the only “Player” in Free City who’s not a dick.

This means that no one—NO ONE!!—had ever tried to play the game as a good guy.

So, at least that’s accurate

Eventually, Guy gets to level 100 (pretty easily) and becomes a worldwide sensation in the process, all because his crush set an arbitrary level requirement for him. 

Anyway, it turns out that Molotov Girl is actually a game developer herself, and is trying to prove that Free City was built atop a game that she helped develop. And what she needed help with was stealing a video file from another player’s home base… 

Because that’s where we keep our video files. Not on our desktops, but inside a video game location as an item that any other player can take.

So, now that Guy has the prerequisite experience, he joins Molotov Girl on her quest.

Electric Sheep

The worst part about this movie is its missed potential. Yes, it’s a family-friendly action movie starring Ryan Reynolds, so it never really had to try very hard.

A cinematic masterpiece

However, there was a much more contemplative movie lying underneath Free Guy’s surface.

You see, Guy is (within the world of the movie) the first true artificial intelligence. He is a thinking, feeling entity that is fully self-aware. He even passes an impromptu Turing Test when Molotov Girl is unable to tell that she is talking to an A.I. and mistakenly thinks that he is another player.

This plot point leads to moments of true introspection as to the nature of humanity and what it means to be self-aware. Unfortunately, these moments pass quickly and are undercut with (admittedly funny) jokes and more video game references than you can shake a stick at.

Dev Notes

Overall, Free Guy is an alright movie. It has plenty of heart, which was overshadowed by a lot of video game references and childish humor. 

Though, I guess that was probably the point. 

It was supposed to be a fun action-adventure about seeing a video game from the point of view of an NPC, and that’s exactly what you get with this movie.

Could it have been introspective and thought-provoking while still maintaining its sense of humor and devotion to video game tropes? Probably. However, the end result was a movie that was mostly entertaining, not entirely coherent, and had fun with its premise.

I’m giving Free Guy an underwhelming 6/10. It wasn’t a tour-de-force, nor was it utter garbage. It walked a fine line between being funny and being good, and unfortunately, it suffered for it.

There was one thing that this movie did for me personally. I think watching this as someone who has played games his entire life has made me realize what it must be like for cops to watch procedural crime shows, or doctors to watch medical dramas. 

Sure, it’s still entertaining, but boy howdy, when the movie gets something wrong does it yank me right out and destroy my suspension of disbelief. 

So, I guess my point is: I should never become a cop or a doctor, because I like media too much. 

I think that was the right lesson to have learned from this… 

Probably.