Combined Rating: 3/5
When I told Frank I wanted to see this one, I didn’t think he’d actually take me. The preview looked like everything he hates about the modern movie industry: a fluffy vapid CGI-fest (and I was pretty sure he’d say something about how “proverbial” it was, as well). But I thought it looked cute and like my random kind of humor, if admittedly about an inch deep. I don’t expect (nor do I really want) movies that make me ponder the deeper meaning of life, anyway—I get enough of that elsewhere. Surprisingly, “Free Guy” actually provided fodder for a decent amount of discussion afterwards, though it was in many ways exactly what we both expected.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a caricature of optimism: he wakes up every morning and goes through the same monotonous routine day after day, yet he’s absurdly chipper about every boring detail and even every catastrophe. He’s a bank teller, and every day, the bank gets robbed. He cheerfully hides on the floor and gabs with his best friend Buddy, one of the security guards, who is equally unconcerned. (The contrast here between a normal response and Guy’s response had me laughing so hard I was crying.) He explains that in his world, the “sunglass people” are the heroes—except he defines heroes as people who get to do whatever cool stuff they want and get away with it. They’re the ones who walk around with machine guns, steal what they want (including women), get into car chases, etc, while the rest of them just deal with the rampant chaos around them. But then one day he sees a girl (Jodie Comer)—in sunglasses, no less—and everything changes. One of the unspoken rules of their world is that “sunglasses” people don’t talk to “non-sunglasses” people, so when he tries to talk to her, he strikes out. Undaunted, he breaks free of the routine he’s always known, confronts the daily bank robber and steals his sunglasses, thus discovering a new layer of “supernatural” possibility within his reality. Meanwhile, the audience learns that Guy is actually a non-character player in the video game Free City. He’s an AI, and the moment he met Molotov girl (Comer), he altered his own programming and became a character. In the real world, a drama plays out between the creators of the game (Millie – Comer again, and Keys, Joe Keery) and the eccentric entrepreneur who stole it from them (Taika Waititi). As Guy innocently pursues Molotov girl, he finds himself caught in the middle of what, to him, feels like a supernatural battle between good and evil for the fate of his world.
While the film was indeed hilarious, I also couldn’t help seeing a profound spiritual allegory. (Most of this was unintended by the film’s creators, I’m sure, though Guy did compare the video game’s creator to God once.) How many of us have felt like our lives are nothing but dull routine, and all we can do is make the best of it? Don’t we all love stories that suggest we can break free from the monotony, if we only have the courage to do so? The idea that a pair of sunglasses could give the characters insight into another layer of reality made me think of 2 Kings 6, when the prophet Elisha prays that his servant’s eyes would be opened, and suddenly the servant saw the chariots of fire surrounding them and protecting them from what seemed before an overwhelming army. There’s a lot going on in our world that most of us cannot perceive, as well. I did catch a few “woke” comments in the script (Hollywood can hardly help themselves), but they were throwaway lines in my opinion, and did not materially alter the plot. Because of this, I felt they could be easily overlooked, though of course I could have done without them entirely. I’ll knock off a star for that, but I overall really enjoyed the film.
Free Guy is ostensibly a “fun” summer movie that overwhelms viewers with visuals and frenetic energy while telling them, “life doesn’t have to be something that just happens to you.” Even though “Guy” (Ryan Reynolds) is just a nameless, background video game character and not even a real human being, the message of “live free to forge your own destiny,” on its face, is universally charming enough to cheer. God knows that we should more unflinchingly embrace risk, which can facilitate self-betterment. But as the movie progressed, I began to sense the employment of sleight of hand tactics coding us, much as do video game creators, into a preferred system of belief, seeming to imply the freedom we strive for is, ironically, only possible within controlled cultural confines. Like immature youths who often preach from a lack of experience, the filmmakers sadly seem unable to resist compromising their own liberating message in order to placate their “woke” Hollywood masters. And so we’re left with mixed messaging that, frankly, does not transcend anything but a typical CGI workload.
What I found most ironic was that the real kids who developed “Guy” the A.I. as an extension of their own desire for love and acceptance spent the entire film trying to regain control of their creation, as a guarantor of their independence . Never mind the fact that in the end, while corporations rise and fall, their success still depends on millions of lazy youths buying and playing their product…wasting away their precious years in fake worlds behind avatars that hide who they really are and promote their idealized selves, much as social media does for us. We’re supposed to feel relieved when they avenge the evil magnate who stole and hid their groundbreaking code, just so they can employ a new game with less violence? If the argument is that society would be less violent without violent videos games, they’re certainly not claiming the solution is for kids to play fewer video games…just less violent ones. But, not distracting kids is off the table, even as we’re hypocritically reminded by players just how much gun violence exists.
As we follow “Guy’s” journey towards “freedom” and self-realization, we’re reminded that he is inherently non-offensive, which guarantees his ultimate success. As “Guy” helps “Millie,” search for her code within the “Free City” network, she laments that “the only non-toxic guy I meet is a robot.” She seemingly fails to realize “Guy’s” creator “Keys” (Joe Keery…“Steve” from “Stranger Things”) is also a sweetheart and is just too shy to express his feelings for “Millie” in the real world. I admit that few are as snarkily charming as Ryan Reynolds, but before she does instantaneously wake up to her feelings for…hell, I have to just call him “Steve,” we’re cringe-inducingly reminded that just because our story features a guy and a girl (soo 2015) being “free” also applies to gender roles, just in case you didn’t think of that. Ultimately, Free Guy contradicts itself and gets in its own way too much without even realizing it. My guess is that the creators of this film spent too many of their formidable years in their mom’s basement, compromising their later ability to separate “choice” from “acceptance.” The result is a silly, surfacy movie that does more in representing the paradox of it’s time than what being a free “guy” or “girl” actually entails. Considering how much talent and creativity went into designing the amazing effects, that is a real shame.
Meal pairing: This is a burger and fries kind of a film, really. But since I (Lauren) disapprove of fast food on general principle, I’m going to go with grass fed beef on lettuce (hold the bun) with Yukon gold salt and vinegar baked potatoes. ***Latebreaking Alert*** I (Frank) must assert bun privilege. You can’t watch “Free Guy” and eat a burger with no bun. C’mon, man! And don’t forget the cheese!