2.5 out of 5 stars
“Life doesn’t have to be something that just happens to us.”
In some ways watching Free Guy is like visiting an ice cream shop that offers toppings ranging from crushed cookies to mixed nuts to a variety of favourite candies. Visually, everything looks delicious, if a bit overwhelming. Still, you would not necessarily want it all piled on top of two scoops of soft serve. Then again, if you ask for everything, halfway through, it all seems a bit much and the joy is gone.
Ryan Reynolds’ (Deadpool) latest adventure is set primarily inside a video game that tries hard not to be about gaming. All the while tipping its headset to fans of popular video games like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto. Modern gamers will undoubtedly appreciate the movie’s reference to these gaming worlds and delight in cameos from real-life Internet streamers with nicknames like Ninja, Pokimane and Jacksepticeye. While other viewers will recognise director Shawn Levy’s (Night at the Museum) nod to movies including The Truman Show, The Matrix and Groundhog Day. Each of these storylines questions man’s purpose in a world that appears staged and where choices seem to have no consequences. The main characters are not in control of their own reality, initially, but gradually become more self-aware until they eventually attempt to free themselves.
In Free Guy, we find our favourite larrikin, Reynolds, playing a bank teller named Guy. His character is programmed as a non-playable character or “NPC” in a video game called Free City. Within this interactive game, people wearing peculiar-looking eyewear are remarkably successful in causing destruction and violence towards the citizens of this virtual metropolis. Despite the never-ending assault, Guy and his fellow NPCs are indifferent about the world where they reside. Even after the bank is robbed multiple times, it is treated as “another day at the office” until it’s time for each character to go home to rinse and repeat the following day. One morning the cheery bank teller curiously becomes mindful of the programmed world around him. This newly discovered self-awareness enables him to make choices and formulate opinions and even fall for one of the playable avatars named Molotov Girl (Jodie Cramer). Due to this fresh consciousness, the former NPC becomes an active player inside the game even while living as a free citizen of Free City. This all may be confusing for some, but instead of causing mayhem Guy chooses to ‘level up’ by doing good and helping his fellow inhabitants of this world.
To the Ryan Reynolds fans of the world, he manages to pour all of charm and likability into his latest role. By now, his delivery is familiar, thanks to the blockbuster franchise, Deadpool. While in this film he seems to walk a parody line between Jim Carrey and Will Farrell with a bit of Chris Pratt from The Lego Movie added in for good measure. Yet, Free Guy has a weakness that is not in the programming, but in writing. This convoluted storyline falls in on itself during the second half of the movie. Like a video game, the distraction of the visual effects will divert attention from following the meandering dialogue provided by a tiresome villain named Antoine (Taika Waititi). Indeed, the best scenes are seeing Ryan Reynolds' alter-ego learning to “level up” as an active gamer and his wrestling with purpose in a world that is scripted. While the rest of the production would have benefited from some ruthless editing and this film could have been ‘game on’ for everyone.
REEL DIALOGUE: What do we strive after in this life?
“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. ”What do people gain from all their labour at which they toil under the sun?"
The search for purpose and meaning is unique to the human condition. It was Macbeth who lamented that this life is a “tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” When it feels as though God is playing pinball with people, there is a temptation to conclude life is meaningless.
Free Guy not only depicts the words from the teachings of King Solomon, but this film also screams out from the deeper recesses of this short passage. By digging into the questions that humanity has about our purposes in life. This happens in film and real life, but many experience the exasperation spoken by the old prophet for the few who achieve their goals. Showing that there is nothing new under the sun. Like the passage, this film rips open the consideration of where purpose and solace can be found. If not in the pleasures of this world, what or who can provide this for us? If you were to read the other writings in the Bible, you would find that God created each person to be an active player in His creation, an abundant life filled with purpose.