Free Guy

Year: 2021
Studio: 20th Century Studios
Director: Shawn Levy
Producer: Matt Berlanti
Writer: Matt Lieberman/Zak Penn
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery

Disney would been sweating hard over this movie. Advertising for it began just when the world was going to hell, and with a $120m budget it would have faced the same financial conundrum as movies like No Time To Die, Tenet or Top Gun: Maverick. Release early enough to offset the mounting costs of holding a movie in a holding pattern and hope you can get blockbuster enough box office despite the COVID19 pandemic, or pay a fortune to leave it on a shelf for when moviegoers feel safe enough going to cinemas again (if they're even open).

It was an unenviable position, but unlike Warner Bros who gambled and lost on Tenet, Disney (after inheriting the film from Fox) made the right choice, holding it back over 18 months to finally come out in late 2021 and edging into the black from the theatrical take.

Another interesting aspect of the movie was the marketing decision about how much to reveal what's actually going on in the story. If you saw the early trailers you knew mild mannered bank teller Guy (Ryan Reynolds) went about his day in a city beset by violence before putting on seemingly magic glasses that revealed an overlay of power-ups, quests and loot all around him. If that didn't make it obvious he was a character from a videogame, the movie itself (and subsequent trailers) didn't do much to hide it.

I won't reveal the deeper secret behind Guy's existence and his sudden awakening to a wider world than just his friendship with security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), his morning coffee and the bank hold-ups that are as routine as every other aspect of his life, but the movie increasingly leaves the in-game environment to show what's going on IRL that affects Guy and his friends.

It's all precipitated by the arrival of Molotovgirl, the in-game avatar of gamer Millie (Jodie Comer), who seems to realise Guy is different and helps him see what exists beyond the limits of his open world city.

In the real world, Millie is an online activist trying to bring down the gaming conglomerate that owns Guy's world, led by its spikily esoteric CEO Antwan (Taika Waititi). She knows a programmer at the company, Keys (Joe Keery) who she's apparently forbidden from speaking to because of some past sleight, but they're both wrapped up in a corporate intrigue around a breakthrough AI and the forthcoming sequel to the game.

If you want to appreciate a satire on modern corporate gaming and the sociopathic figureheads who have too much power in the modern tech industry it's there, but you can enjoy it just as much for the free-wheeling visuals or game-style mayhem and destruction.

Director Shawn Levy has shown in the past he's more than adept at the latter, and the plotting provides enough of a backbone upon which to string an appreciable amount of visual gags. Thanks to Reynolds' charisma and a halfway decent script with some cool and funny ideas, the laughs will carry you the rest of the way.

It was also kind of funny to see writer Zak Penn's name on the writing credits – after Ready Player One you can imagine executives and producers all over Hollywood saying 'get me the virtual worlds guy on the phone!'

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