FREE GUY Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace has a great day.
I’m not that old, but I’m old enough to remember every representation of video games in my childhood prompting eye-rolls at best and being deeply frustrating at worst. I gamed, like many of my friends did. Gamers in the media were portrayed as dysfunctional weirdos or inveterate creeps, and the actual act of gaming was rarely if ever accurate. I grew up in the 2000s; any representation of video games would look like something out of an arcade from the 1980s, the sort of arcade my parents went to when they were young!

(I’m sorry if I made anyone feel old)

It’s why the new Jumanji movies made me so happy. Video games being portrayed with all the wonder they inspired within me as a child! Protagonists who weren’t off-puttingly weird!

The 2021 movie Free Guy, directed by Shawn Levy, promised to be another such movie. Fortunately, it didn’t just deliver; it surpassed expectations. Free Guy is many things: comedy, science fiction, romance, video game movie. And against all odds, it succeeded in all of them.

There are many other performers in this movie, but we all knew from the trailers it would succeed or fail based on its star, Ryan Reynolds. He portrays Guy, a non-player character (NPC - a term used correctly!) inside the world of an open-world murderfest reminiscent of a caricature of Grand Theft Auto or maybe Fortnite. He works at a bank, living a life of idealized white-collar harmony while the world goes insane around him. He and his friends go about their lives while all sorts of lunatic carnage unfolds around them. Most of the time, they don’t notice, until Guy does.

The plot in cyberspace is bolstered by a plot in the real world, where real people have to confront the fact that what was seen as a fictional character is now, in some sense, as real as they are. Stranger Things fans will welcome Joe Keery’s performance as a programmer who has given up on his dreams. Jodie Comer brings an ebullient charm to the character who nags Keery’s character to remember the dream they once shared together. Taika Waititi brings great hilarity as the villain of the whole affair, an eccentric billionaire reminiscent of Elon Musk in his shitposting mode.

It’s quite a funny film, as Ryan Reynolds’ presence almost always guarantees. It is a humor brought about by culture shock. The real world has its own set of rules, and an open world MMORPG game has different rules. Like a funnier L. Sprague de Camp or John Birmingham, there are many witty interactions as a result of these two different ‘cultures’ colliding together.

The action is also spellbinding. By setting so much of the movie in a virtual realm, it is liberated from mundane constraints like ‘plausibility’ and ‘believability’ and ‘the laws of physics.’ Perhaps I misspeak; the trippy visuals are plausible because it is in a virtual world. Of course it could do things that couldn’t really happen!

What really made me so happy about this movie was how it is, in some way, a love letter to the best parts of gaming culture. Multiplayer games bring people together; I can vouch for this personally. The game that Guy inhabits brings its two ‘real world’ protagonists together in ways neither thought possible. It is a narrative that is ultimately deeply humanist, rather than cynical. It is astounding in its overall optimistic view of people.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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