The Twentieth Century Studios movie Free Guy, uses video games to create an existentialist parable about humans’ ability to make choices against society’s expectations.
Guy is a bank employee (Ryan Reynolds) who discovers he is an NCP (non-player character) in an open world video game, who decides to become the hero of his own story and rewrite his character. Thanks to a program developed by Milly (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery) inserted into Free City by the publisher Antoine (Taika Waititi), Guy becomes aware that his reality is in truth fictional, but he takes a step to change the rules, to save the game before the developers can shut it down.
Free Guy is a potpourri of philosophy, entertainment, action and empathy, where themes that were previously explored in films such as The Truman Show (1998) and Simone (2002), are heightened, as A.I. becomes the protagonist of this journey of self-discovery.
The role of NPC (non-player character) becomes the emblem of us all. Habitually in video games these characters are controlled by the computer, instead of the player. Every time the game begins they have a predetermined set of behaviours that may potentially impact gameplay, but they aren’t artificial intelligence. And yet, Guy, does possess that ability to feel and think for himself and he finally stops waiting for permission to be who he wants to be.
Guy, with his amusing facial expressions and wholesome nature, just like 20th century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, reminds us that we’re freer than we allow ourselves to imagine, amidst the ordinary pressure of commitments and obligations. Too often we believe that we are not free to choose, thinking that our decisions are somehow made for us and we follow the “script” that society would want us to enact. But to reach our full potential and authentic self we must dare to defy.
Existence is about being in a fundamentally free and responsible predicament. Little does it matter if Free City is a video game, because we exist first and only then, do we try to make sense of things through science, religion, politics, philosophy. At the end of the day Guy (and his friend Buddy, played by Lil Rel Howery) will teach us that the realm of experiencing existence turns out to be more primary than the objective validity of scientific principles.
Screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn have done an outstanding work in instilling these profound reflections throughout a highly sidesplitting blockbuster. There are moments that will tickle pink, particularly the nod to Marvel Comics and Star Wars. The acting by the entire cast is engaging, moving and amusing. They all bring multifaceted characters to life, that are very relatable and diverting. Ryan Reynolds, besides playing the eponymous “Guy,” has another appearance that will have everyone rolling in the aisles.
In terms of what the film technically achieves: it is mind-gobbling. Director Shawn Levy makes spectators initially feel like they’re part of that world that is mistaken to be true, and they later shift to the perspective of the players, siding with them as outside viewers who are in control. This cognitive deception is intriguing, as the senses are fooled in this perceptual alternation.
Those who are knowledgeable in the field of video games will further take delight in the array of cameos from some of the most influential figures in this field, such as Imane “Pokimane” Anys, Lannan “LazarBeam” Eacott, Seán William “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, and Daniel “DanTDM” Middleton.
Free Guy is scheduled to be released in the United States on August 13th and 45 days later it will be available on Disney+. The film will also be part of the Piazza Grande section of the 74th Locarno Film Festival, this summer.
Final Grade: A-
Here’s the trailer of the film.