Many people, from quantum physicists to conspiracy theorists, believe we are living in a simulation. The reality we perceive is created in the supercomputer of a highly technologically advanced civilization. The simulation they’ve constructed is detailed, includes not just the Earth and everyone on it but the idea of a Universe with other planets, stars and galaxies that are, conveniently, too far away for us to ever visit. Our memories, our families, our knowledge of history and our hopes and dreams for the future are all merely ones and zeroes in some lines of binary code, or perhaps the random variations of an electromagnetic field inside a quantum computer. We may not be made of star stuff, as Carl Sagan one said, but subatomic electrically charged bits held inside a computer chip.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) loves his life, his goldfish Goldy, his friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) and his job at the bank where, every day robbers walk in and steal money. Guy lives in Free City, a magical place where anything can happen, but for Guy, every day is the same. Free City is a role-playing game released by game developer Soonami, run by the egomaniacal Antwan (Taika Waititi). One of the game’s players is Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer), AKA Molotov Girl, who designed a game called Life Itself, and believes Antwan stole its code to make Free City. She is trying to sue Antwan but lacks hard proof her code is in Free City. Her former development partner on Life Itself, Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery), works for Antwan at Soonami. Millie is trying to find a hidden video file hidden within Free City to prove Antwan stole the code and she and Keys deserve royalties from the game. Millie, as her avatar Molotov Girl, is walking down the street in Free City when Guy sees her and falls in love at first sight. After some effort and being killed a couple of times, Guy manages to talk to Millie. Assuming he is a hacker in an NPC (non-playable character) skin, Millie ignores him, but Guy goes against his character programming and begins quickly levelling up in Free City, becoming a powerful fighter with a huge arsenal of guns and vehicles, all in the hopes of helping Millie and getting her to fall in love with him.
It may not be the first film where life is lived in a virtual reality, but “Free Guy” is the most fun you’ll have in that fake world. The setting, the weapons (some designed after various video games), and the frustrations of Free City feel both familiar and new as we learn more about Guy, his home and life. “Free Guy” is more about learning to live your life without restraint than it is about video games.
Ryan Reynolds is his usual charming self. As Guy begins to learn how best to survive and advance in Free City, he does it be being a good guy. He stops crimes instead of committing them. He helps people instead of hurting them. He’s not just a good guy, he’s the Great Guy. Reynolds gives Guy’s naivete a sweet and comical turn. He may kill a criminal by accident and chalk it up to the character being sleepy. Guy finds joy in the smallest things and, as he begins to expand beyond his programming, Guy influences other NPCs to do the same. Guy’s enthusiasm for learning and living in Free City is a key component of Reynold’s performance. He’s relentlessly positive and it keeps this slightly too long movie moving at a good pace.
Taika Waititi makes an easily dislikable villain. Waititi has played a child’s fantasy version of Hitler, a goofy vampire and a giant but gentle rock creature. He finds comedy in unlikely places and his self-aggrandizing, morally questionable, utterly repugnant Antwan is one of his best. Waititi’s Antwan is a whirling dervish of gobbledygook catch phrases and pop culture references. His over-the-top style hides his knowledge of what a failure he is. He knows his isn’t responsible for the success of Free City and his bravado is an effort to hide the truth. Waititi takes a horrible person and makes him comically watchable.
The rest of the cast, from Jodie Comer’s Millie to Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Mouser, a friend and co-worker of Keys’, is spot on. Comer and Reynolds have a believable chemistry in the sim world and their partnership and eventual attraction is believable, even if it’s in a virtual existence. The film is peppered with cameos. Some you will easily recognize, like the late Alex Trebek and Channing Tatum, while others are hidden behind masks or just providing voices, like Tina Fey, Dwayne Johnson and Hugh Jackman. There are even streaming gamers in the film like Ninja, Jackscepticeye and Pokimane. If you’re deep in the world of game streamers, you see several familiar faces. “Free Guy” knows what audience it’s aiming at and makes sure there’s plenty for them to recognize and love.
“Free Guy” is rated PG-13 for strong fantasy violence throughout, language and crude/suggestive references. Numerous video game characters are blown up, shot, and otherwise dispatched on screen. The crude and suggestive references are very mild and usually done for comedic effect. Foul language is mostly mild, but there is one ratings-allowed F-bomb.
Back to the discussion of if we’re in a simulation, it doesn’t matter. We will continue to live our lives unaware of the forces that are guiding us. Some believe it’s their version of God, others think it is random chance. If it’s a simulation, then we’re being guided by both a God, in the writer of the code, and the random variations that occur over time as we repeat actions, learn from our mistakes and make corrections. If this is a sim, it doesn’t matter as long as our creator keeps the power on.
“Free Guy” gets five stars.
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