What timing! I saw Free Guy the same day as the Thor: Ragnarok episode of my podcast was released! It’s TaikaMania running wild, brother! Every so often I fall harmlessly but accidentally into kismet.
For just the fourth time since COVID started (wait… fourth? Let me check. The Conjuring, this, Black Widow, A Quiet Place 2… yep, fourth) I went to the cinema, and it was to see the new Ryan Reynolds vehicle, Free Guy. And what a physical experience it was! I am the kind of person who typically eschews theater fanciness in exchange for just the regular cinematic to-do. But due to some timing issues with when our dinner wrapped up, we arrived an hour before the next standard showing of Free Guy.
But there was another showing starting shortly, and it was an AMC Dolby showing.
I don’t… I don’t know what that means.
I mean, I do now! It’s fancy! The screen is IMAX huge, the seats are all fancy powered recliners, and the sound is built into the theater to literally vibrate everything around you. Was it worth the $12 ticket price (somewhat abhorrent to me because I usually see movies for under $10 given how often I go)? Mostly. The sound was LOUD in a way I was not prepared for and have to yet recovered from. It felt, at times, like the movie was trying to kill any symbiotes that might have snuck in. My wife and I yelled our thoughts on the movie to each other the whole way home because we are old people.
On its face, Free Guy is the story of a massive open world video game and one of its non-player characters who has somehow come to life. You know that from the trailers. Beyond that, there is a story of Millie and Keys struggling against the designer of the wildly popular Free City because he stole their code to make his masterpiece. It is Guy’s interactions with Millie–while she is infiltrating the game to find proof–that springs him out of his coffee-and-bank-robberies routine.
Events happen, and the villainous game designer, Antwaan, figures out that he has to quash the game before it can be proven he is a thief. From there, it’s a typical movie race against time (and a race against Antwaan just pulling the plug) to get the info public.
Ryan Reynolds is well past the point in his career where we are surprised that he just keeps playing Ryan Reynolds over and over again. The problem–or not problem, I guess–is that Ryan Reynolds–the actor AND the character–is just so damn effortlessly charming and charismatic.
This is one of the more Your Mileage May Vary moments of this review, but I haven’t gotten sick of Reynolds yet, and at this point, I probably never will. You know what you are getting out of a RR performance: some quick jokes, references to how handsome he is, and a lot of playing with similes and metaphors to make jokes (“It’s like I just lost my virginity, but in my mouth” is a line that had to have been originally dreamed up for Deadpool). If you like him, you’ll no doubt enjoy this. If you are tired of his whole thing, well…
You would still have Taika Waititi, who is cartoonishly over-the-top in his villainy here, but just like with Ryan, I don’t care because I love Taika. He’s clearly having a blast here and might as well be physically grabbing the camera and yelling right into it for as much as he commands every scene he is in.
The rest of the main cast–Jodie Comer as Millie, Joe Keery as Keys, Lil Rey Howery as Buddy, and Utkarsh Ambudkar as Mouser–are all perfectly fine. They work in their roles, especially Comer who has to do most of the heavy lifting as, essentially, the co-lead to Reynolds and as someone playing both a character AND the made up character of that character.
Sometimes, my old man obliviousness to pop culture helps me out, and I think this might have been one of those times. There are occasional cut-ways to players of the game talking about the goings on therein as if they were talking to the followers of their YouTube channels. These were, probably, real YouTube people brought in to appeal to Zoomers.
But here’s the thing: I don’t have any fucking idea who they are, so it’s not like I thought “Oh, it’s that obnoxious YouTuber” (says the obnoxious podcaster). So their ability/inability to act actually kind of helped the movie because they felt like rando schmucks talking into a web cam instead of actors giving an intentionally stunted performance.
I had enough common sense not to watch the purportedly god awful Space Jam sequel/reboot, but I have heard one of the bigger complaints about it is that it is essentially a full-length advertisement for Warner Brothers’ properties. Not to be outdone, Free Guy has a brief interlude into desperately reminding you that Disney owns 20th Century Studios now. And while it goes on a bit too long and gets really tired at a very specific point, it’s kicked off with a Chris Evans cameo that is solid damn gold, so I’ll allow it.
(Speaking of winning cameos, I won’t give much away, but I will note that Channing Tatum remains a treat in his small role here)
As for the negatives? Well, the plot relies on Antwaan moving really slowly when he has every advantage in the world on his side. It’s one of those movies where if the screenwriter didn’t want to villain to lose, the villain would definitely win. Antwaan actually has a couple of ways to defeat Millie and Guy, and he either doesn’t enact them, tries them once and then quits instead of doing them over and over, or waits too long to get around to them.
Additionally, the movie is literally about the very first Artificial Intelligence to ascertain a level of life, and while the movie does appropriately give that some emotional heft, it completely shies away from any philosophical or legal ramifications of it. I don’t need this bright, cheery comedy to go SkyNet on me, but I could have used a bit of discussion on what this means for the world.
And while it didn’t necessarily bother me because I looked at them as loving homages rather than plagiarism (especially in a movie about an antagonist stealing ideas), there are some heavy-handed references to other movies here. Take your choice between The Truman Show (the character, who finds out he lives a life that others watch, has to cross the vast body of water to escape) or They Live (the white protagonist tries to get his black friend to put on glasses to see the real world), among others.
Personally, the good far outweighed the bad for me here. Free Guy doesn’t even cross the two hour mark, and it seemed keenly aware of how far it could stretch its premise until it would snap. And it’s just so darn fun. The movie charming, whimsical, Ryan Reynolds comfort food, and everyone else (but especially Waititi) more than carries their weight.
It’s going to come down to your feelings on Reynolds; it really is. He continues to work as far as I am concerned, so I had a lot of fun here. It may be destined to be a movie I really enjoyed but then forget about in a year or two, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed it.