20th century workshops
Adding layers intrigues and a touch of intellect to the action genre, “Free Guy” breaks with typical action films and may foreshadow a new era of action films to come.
Directed by Shawn Levy, “Free Guy” follows Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who struggles to succumb to life’s tedious daily life. Everything changes when he meets Millie (Jodie Comer) – a woman he believes is the girl of his dreams – who reveals to Guy that he is a non-playable character (NPC) in the video game Free City. Free City is an online game where players wreak havoc on city NPCs to earn points and level up, very similar to games like Grand Theft Auto. Being an extra behind the scenes of real player missions is all Guy knows until he breaks the algorithm. Guy challenges his lineup by choosing to be the main character in his story, which leads to some eventful drifts out of this world and possibly the end of Free City as he knows it.
Guy’s fight against the coders and creators of Free City leads to some exhilarating lawsuits. In the virtual world, his pursuers build pathways and structures leading to stunts and special effects that suck audiences into Free City. With tight writing and comedy stars like Taika Waititi and Lil Rel Howery, there is a constant thread of humorous relief – both burlesque and character.–trained – that keeps the heaviest moments from being overwhelming.
While being extremely entertaining as a summer action film, “Free Guy” also explores complex and relevant themes. Most notably the villainous Antwan (Taika Waititi), the arrogant CEO of the company that owns the game Free City, fuels the struggle between creativity and capitalism. Antwan cares little about the quality or innovation of a product, but more about how it can make it money. Despite being a fictional character, Antwan serves as a chilling symbolism for the possible grim fate facing those obsessed with wealth.
“Free Guy” has authentic, larger-than-life acting, which is to be expected with the talented A-List cast. However, Joe Keery did the most with his screen time in the role of Keys. Even though Keys remains in the supporting realm, Keery manages to deliver a mature, empathetic performance that shows that the length of a performance doesn’t determine quality. Keery relays the character’s immense growth and explores all the depths of Keys as a character to the top–subtle level of action.
Millie’s character is not hypersexualized, which is refreshing for the action genre. Mille is a programmer whose only reason to play the Free City game is to find proof that Antwan stole her code to create the game. Her purpose and connections with the other characters make her feel fully formed. Female characters can quickly fall into the objectification of the masculine gaze – especially when the action genre is so strongly masculine.–dominated – but Mille is portrayed the same as her male counterparts. Comer, who is used to playing badass women, gives a compelling performance in this role as she explores the ferocity behind a determined woman.
More importantly, “Free Guy” is one of the first films to prove how the game can bring people together. Viewers are immersed in the community of players like never before thanks to the excellent editing and staging choices Levy uses to tell this story. The cuts to live streamers and professional gamers playing Free City highlight the interconnected nature of the game for older viewers, who may not be so familiar with the world of video games. While “Free Guy” offers some of the best entertainment of the summer, getting older viewers to watch it can also cause them to stop rambling about the isolating nature of video games.