I’ve waxed lyrical about the ODEON Screen Unseen before: a chance to watch a critically-acclaimed film before its out, with the caveat that you don’t know what the film will be until it starts. It’s not often that it’s a big film, but last night’s was – it happened to be Free Guy, Ryan Reynold’s latest blockbuster. It packs a high concept and lots of laughs and action, and it’s an enjoyable and easy watch that is easily one of the best video games movies out there. There are few minor issues, but I’d recommend Free Guy for a fun time at the cinema.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a bank clerk who works in Free City, dreaming of finding the one. But he’s also an NPC (non-player character) in the game Free City, and so he is programmed to live each day the same. One day, he breaks his programming. Guy sees a beautiful woman called Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), and he steals a player’s sunglasses, starting to develop his own agency, seeing his world in a different way. In the real world, Millie (Comer) is a programming genius who suspects that a game developed by her and ‘Keys’ (Joe Keery) was stolen by the vain tech giant Antwan (Taika Waititi), and sets out to prove it before he can destroy Free City.
If you pick up Truman Show vibes, I wouldn’t blame you
I’m not going to claim this film has the most original premise (my immediate thought was Wreck-It Ralph), but it’s still a largely novel one and it really runs with it. It does the kind of things you’d expect – Guy engages with power-ups, for example – but it also digs into the ramifications of Guy’s self-awareness a lot more than I expected. It’s not that deep (this film wasn’t written by Aristotle), and at times I wished it dug a lot deeper into the ideas (surprisingly few people in the tech world are particularly engaged by the idea of creating the first artificial intelligence); but it offers food for thought as well as the video game visuals, the action and a lot of gags and amusing set-pieces. If you pick up Truman Show vibes, I wouldn’t blame you.
Reynolds brings his usual charisma to Guy: he convinces as the everyman, but also channels cool as he fires off a number of great lines. Essentially, if you liked him in anything before, you’ll like him here. He’s ably supported by Comer, who doesn’t really have too much to do but rises well above it, and Lil Rel Howery as Guy’s best friend, a security guard who is less interested in enlightenment. In the real world, Keery and Utkarsh Ambudkar are somewhat underused as programmers, and they don’t make much impact next to Waititi, who really shines – there’s a risk some people will find him too over-the-top, but he landed perfectly for me. There’s also a load of great cameos (and some streaming people I didn’t know), one of which caused the cinema to applaud – you’ll know when you see it.
Much though I enjoyed it, there were definite issues. Free City never really feels like a game, and there’s no sense of what the rules are – it’s a fun experience, but the rules are not really rigid or fleshed out enough. That’s not necessarily an issue in itself, but then it left me with a load of questions throughout. Why is Keys unable to enter the game world to solve the mystery of ‘Blue Shirt Man’ when we’ve already seen he can do it in the opening? Why does Antwan make such a big deal about turning off respawning, only for no characters to die from that point on? Why are some injuries fatal to NPCs, yet they shrug off other, equally serious-looking ones? I also thought the love story elements were largely unnecessary, and not overly convincing; it feels like an afterthought, rammed in because the writers thought that they needed one, rather than because it really adds anything. I feel like the core premise should have been more than enough – when we reached the ending, it resolves so hurriedly it’s almost underwhelming.
It’s sheer popcorn entertainment, and that’s a huge selling point in my book
Really, though, Free Guy isn’t the kind of movie you’re meant to sit there and think too hard about: it’s sheer popcorn entertainment, and that’s a huge selling point in my book. It’s engaging and it’s funny, it boasts a lot of good performances, and it’s executed well. Give it a go – you won’t regret your trip to Free City.