tek's rating:

Free Guy (PG-13)
20th Century Studios; Disney Wiki; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Disney+; Google Play; HBO Max; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: spoilers

This opened in August 2021, and that same month Disney Movie Insiders had a deal for 20% off a line of glasses from Zenni, inspired by this movie. So I decided it was a good time to buy a backup pair of glasses, and to wear them whenever I got around to watching the movie. Which I finally did on DVD in February 2022, the day before the movie became available via Disney+. Not that any of that matters to you, but I felt like sharing the information, anyway. As for the movie, I ended up loving it. In fact I decided to include it on my list of favorite movies, which I rarely do the first time I watch a movie. I'm not sure how much that decision may have been influenced by the beer I was drinking at the time, but I'm going to stick with it. (Though I do feel a bit less than 100% certain about doing it.) I didn't love the movie from the start, I started out just liking it. It took me a large part of the movie to get around to loving it, and more time to change my estimated rating from one heart to two to three. The movie is meant to be an action comedy, which it does quite well, but I enjoyed it on more levels than that. I also consider it a serious science fiction film, for a reason I'll get to later. And I found it genuinely dramatic as well as romantic (though the latter is not for the most obvious- albeit problematic- pairing).

So... it's about an NPC (non-player character) named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) in an MMORPG called "Free City". He works as a bank teller, where his best friend, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), is a security guard. They go through their daily routines without noticing the sameness of every day, never suspecting that their world isn't real. (In a way, this reminds me of The Truman Show, but on an even deeper level.) But they are aware that some people are special... people who wear sunglasses are above the law, and do whatever they want. Guy considers them heroes, despite their doing things like rob the bank where he works. Every. Day. (Of course these are the avatars of actual players, but Guy doesn't know that.) Then one day, Guy sees a sunglasses-wearing woman called Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) whom he instantly recognizes as the woman of his dreams. (There's a good reason for that, which I won't spoil.) In the real world, Molotov is Millie Rusk, a programmer who had developed a video game called "Life Itself", together with another programmer called Keys. They had sold the game to the CEO of a company called Soonami, Antwan (Taika Waititi), who never produced the game, but instead used its source code as the basis of "Free City". Now, I don't exactly understand why that would be illegal once he owned the code, and maybe it's not, but Millie wants to find proof that he'd used her and Keys's code, for which apparently they'd be owed royalties. It would also garner the two of them credit in the gaming community, or whatever. (This part of the plot reminds me of TRON.) Anyway, the code is hidden somewhere within the game, and she's trying to obtain proof using her avatar, Molotov. Meanwhile, Keys now works at Soonami, along with another coder called Mouser. Millie wants Keys's help, but while he initially refuses to get involved, he does eventually help.

When Molotov meets Guy, she assumes he's a gamer who has hacked the skin of an NPC. (Incidentally, while we mostly see characters in game as if they were real, we occasionally see gamers in the real world watching the game on screens, with decent but less than lifelike visuals. It's not like VR, or anything.) Of course Guy has no idea what she's talking about, but he wants to help her with her mission. She says first he'll have to level up, which he quickly does by stopping crimes instead of committing them, as most players do. He becomes famous as "Blue Shirt Guy", and everyone wonders who he is in real life. Once he's at a high enough level, he finds Molotov again and becomes quite helpful. Meanwhile, Antwan has Keys and Mouser trying to stop Guy and Molotov, once he realizes what they're after. But Keys eventually realizes that Guy is a product of his original programming for "Life Itself", and has evolved into the world's first truly self-aware A.I. That's one of my favorite parts of the film, and what makes it science fiction. I love seeing an A.I. presented as good rather than evil, as most A.I.s tend to be in science fiction. And it adds to the drama when Antwan decides to shut down Free City for good, because it would essentially be killing a unique life form. After Keys tells Millie the truth about Guy, she has to tell Guy that he and his whole world are just a game, which quite understandably gives him a bit of an existential crisis. But he eventually gets over it and continues trying to help Molotov, eventually also helping the other NPCs begin to evolve as he had.

Well, I don't want to say exactly how it all ends, but of course it's a happy ending. I hope I haven't given too much away, already. Surely I've left out a lot of details... Though I did also want to mention that the songs suit each scene in which they appear quite well (one of them in particular), and definitely added to my enjoyment of the movie. The whole thing really is great fun to watch on multiple levels.

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