Video game movies, whether it be leased off a popular property or their own thing, have never had the best track record with box office winnings or even the fans for the matter. Whether straying too far from the original or following it’s theme and story by trying too hard, there’s many factors that could result in any video game movie bombing hard which is one of many reasons why Free Guy did not resonate through to me at all.
Seriously, it is a movie about an NPC character in a video game becoming self-aware and gaining consciousness to make his own choices. It really shouldn’t be possible to screw up that formula and Disney has been the undisputed KING of screwing up the very things they create recently—
Ok, I can’t keep stonewalling this: YES, I like this but only just.
Ryan Reynolds is basically playing himself again by this point and whether or not you’re going to like that will depend on how you feel about him or how you feel his involvement in this film works. And while he’s just the MCU’s new de facto audience surrogate as of this moment in time, there’s no denying Ryan knows how to be charismatic and witty and likable.
The rest of the cast have just as much fun with the material as him but only Jodie Comer and Taika Waititi come extremely close to matching Ryan’s charisma and charm.
With a heavy emphasis on cartoonish violence, the film zips along rather nicely, playing to the strength of its own stimulant energy and the tone was essentially set from the trailers so if you don’t take it seriously and go along with the ride, there shouldn’t be an issue. Cinematography wise, I wouldn’t say none of the shots were inventive or thematically impressive but none were amateur; I think immersive enough is what I’m looking for. I can give props for the film trying to take some liberty in being creative with the pop culture vehicle gently poking fun at gamers and gaming culture and the only thing really deep about this movie is the message related to the human condition in today's world; connected only to producing, pleasing, delivering until we wake up. And as wonky everything else is surrounding it, I will admit there was joy in Guy, everyone else discovering new things that are normal everyday things to us (which felt very poignant to how we all seem to be feeling in this new pandemic world) because of just how….
….uncynical it all comes across.
Many elements of this GTA Online-like video game world are going to make both gamers and former gamers alike salivate upon first look at the world these characters inhabit to the cameos to those who play it and onwards. There's product placement, references to movies, game stuff, and Twitch streamers in it, so yeah it's very corporate, but it didn't bother me much as Space Jam 2. As a combination of Fornite, Wreck-It-Ralph, Scott Pilgrim, Ready Player One and the Lego Movie, this combination of action and science fiction, however, handicaps the films ability to thrive with a personality on its own.
Director Shawn Levy may not waste any time in getting us through the first half, insuring an enjoyably average cycle of mindless action and hidden exposition but it gets kind of monotonous by the second act, as he retreads over the same plot threads and themes again and again, seemingly unable to shake off the influence of the other movies that inspired this one. He wanted to go for something ambitious and yet by just taking us through the motions, the direction becomes more threadbare.
There’s oddball cringe humor that’s very 50/50 at the start but is just tiresome by the end, CGI threw me off at almost every turn which is something that doesn’t normally happen and try as you like but the two overarching plot threads only BARELY have anything to do with each other; it gets monotonous really quickly.
Luckily, the writing brings the story back into focus before it becomes too much to take in but even then, the writing isn’t glitch free either. Now, there’s absolutely nothing special about the plot or anything that actually stands out but it edges itself ever so slightly above pedestrian and adjusts to the discourse of the films direction so at least I had fun with it. But what the film’s story is and what I wanted it to be after further dissection made me want to consider taking that statement back.
The interesting existential tidbits about agency, morality, capitalism and artificial intelligence play second fiddle to a finger-wagging argument about consumerism while preaching about the importance of individuality, swapping out some potentially gargantuan splices of storytelling for something that could’ve been unforgivably substandard if the movie didn’t stick the landing…..which surprisingly, it did.
So for that, I’m grateful. But even for the messages it has, it gets handicapped by a plot-twist near the end that gets really confusing really quickly.
At the end of the day, the reason I ended up unexcited for this movie just narrows down to…..me not wanting to give it a chance. Turns out Free Guy is practically junk food: not the most nuanced or sensible watch of the year but entertaining to watch. Today was an example in what sometimes happens when I do judge before I take in something. Will it stick with me long-term? Time will tell.