Free Guy should be a movie that I could have just shut my brain off to enjoy, but something in the back of my head kept punching me in the brain. It’s a movie that rails against commercialism while being a major studio movie, a film that champions the individual while being an ersatz Ready Player One*, which is really just a patch off of The Last Starfighter, but I was enjoying its dumb summer movie energy and thinking, “Well, this would have been fun to watch in a packed theater when we still did those things.”
But then, spoiler warning, the main character used Captain America’s shield and an actual lightsaber and I was out. Well, I was nearly out, then another character looked right into the camera and said, “He has a lightsabre!” as if we didn’t know what it was in a moment that would have been smart if it were parody but really felt like studio notes. Like hey, will the kids know what this laser sword is? You know, it’s only the most famous weapon since, I don’t know, Excalibur.
It’s a bummer because I think Ryan Reynolds seems like a nice enough guy. Lil Rel Howery is a funny fellow. Taika Waititi makes really interesting movies within and without the machine. And yet, this just feels like a beta test, like it’s missing something, and all of those Twitch gamer cameos are going to age just like Fred! the Movie.
I’ve played enough Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto to get the jokes. And I love the wild action and effects throughout. But another point keeps bothering me. The Millie Rusk character made a game called Life Itself, which became Free City, and one of the characters within it — that she created — is her perfect man, the guy she’s been missing her entire life. And sure, that could be completely romantic and make you wonder, is God in the machine and fate and we can’t choose who we love. Or we could be cynical and realize it’s a lot like Robert Crumb drawing dirty pictures for himself to sexually enjoy.
Unlike The Truman Show, no one really flips out when they realize they’re living in a simulation. I mean, I know how I felt when I learned the news. Now, I deaden myself with drink and Jess Franco movies. Maybe you can use this film and your stimulant of choice to numb your realization.
*Actually, Penn wrote both of these movies, so I guess much like John Fogerty discovered, you can steal from yourself. It’s also completely a worse version of Tron, but I figured I’d just put that in the footnote so I wouldn’t come off as such a humorless jerk.