Free Guy: What Ready Player One should have been

Gretchen Lee– Copyeditor

Of the many delayed movie releases from COVID-19 precautions, I thought Free Guy was overhyped. The trailer, which we had nearly a year to brood over, featured slapstick humor, a trope-y plot, and a star-studded cast that made this movie look like a shallow comedy, existing simply to make money. 

That being said, trailers can be deceiving. So, I went hoping the film would beat my expectations. 

It did.

Free Guy is the story of a non-playable-character (NPC) in a popular online videogame called Free City. In this game, players commit crimes to gain points and level up. Guy, an NPC, is a bank teller that players are tasked with robbing. His job is to stick to his daily routine, let the bank get robbed, and chat with his best friend, Buddy. 

One day, however, Guy sees a female player that makes him wonder if there’s more to his life. He begins deviating from his usual routine and participating in the game. This gains the attention of the game developers, players, and a programmer who is searching Free City for evidence she can use to sue the game developers for theft of her programming. What unfolds from there is a comedic yet meaningful story that also serves as a fun tribute to modern pop-culture.

Plot-wise, this story is fantastic. It is clear that a great deal of thought and planning went into the script. At the same time, it’s not particularly deep or intellectual. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, making the experience fun. 

I’m a firm believer movies don’t always need to probe the minds of the audience or have a deep lesson; sometimes a movie can just exist to make the rest of the world disappear for a while. Free Guy more than adequately fills this roll. 

In addition to a well-planned plot, this film also hosts an excellent cast of characters. Guy, of course, steals the show, but several of the side characters also manage to carry memorable character arcs. In fact, Molotov Girl ends up being more of a central character in the overall story than Guy does by the end. 

The biggest perks of this movie, however, are the pop culture references. Being a movie about video games, there are plenty of references to popular gaming streamers and other online games. There are also other fun references to movie franchises, like Star Wars and Marvel, and songs that have played an important part in modern music. However, the movie never feels bogged down with, or oversaturated by these allusions. 

In many ways, I feel like this movie is what Ready Player One tried to accomplish. While Ready Player One had a decent plot and lots of fun allusions, it lacked the character and heart it needed to truly be an excellent movie. Audiences need to connect with characters, or even the most well-planned plot will feel tedious. Free Guy succeeds tremendously in creating likeable characters the audience can invest in. Since it accomplished that, the pop-culture references felt more like a satisfying treat for the audience instead of a bribe for the audience to keep watching. 

Overall, Free Guy is a fun movie with a lot of heart. It has clearly been made with a lot of love and passion and, while it’s not going to have philosophers scratching their heads for the next few decades, I’ll certainly be watching it whenever I need to escape the struggles of adulthood for a couple hours.

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