Free Guy is an action-comedy film starring Ryan Reynolds as “Guy,” an NPC (non-playable character) meant for the background (and amusement of other real players) in the video game world of Free City, an open world mix-up of popular sandbox games such as Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, and The Sims. The thing that makes Guy special though is that he gains sentience and develops self-awareness and artificial intelligence. Breaking from the monotony of his Bank Teller job duties, Guy becomes free and goes on one of the most action packed and surprisingly existential journeys you’ll see this year.
Although Free Guy markets itself as just another comedy action film, it’s actually one of the takes an interesting look into the potential future of artificial intelligence, simulation theory, as well as criticizes the monotony of modern life. For those unfamiliar, simulation theory is the belief that we could be living in a digital simulation. In other words, we’re all just AIs who are code living in a virtual world where technology has improved so much that the NPC themselves are intelligent and the digital realm is indistinguishable from reality. Free Guy lives within that premise, as Guy does not know that everything within his world (and everyone he’s ever cared about) is really just part of a video game.
When Guy discovers that he’s just some background character in a video game, everything feel pointless to him. Guy’s original character cycle is to wake-up, go to his job at the bank, suffer some kind of abuse for a player’s mission in the game, and repeat. Looking at his own life, he begins to criticize all the things people in the city do every day. But it’s also a reflection of our “real” society as well. When Guy says ‘This is all meaningless! This is all fake’, he’s also talking about many of our lives in the real world. Living our lives in the day-to-day, the loop that so many of us are in is essentially the same as some random background NPC character. In many ways, it can feel like we’re all NPCs who just can’t get free and escape. Tasked to serve Free City’s creators, all the NPC’s purpose (including Guy) is to just gain as much money as possible for the business itself. Antoine, the CEO of Free City (played by Taika Waititi), actively declines innovation that isn’t profitable and does whatever he can to squeeze enjoyment out of the misery of the NPCs in Free City, even though he knows that they are self-aware and intelligent beings. The ruler of Guy’s world is the business that he’s a product, not unlike the big businesses that we work for and allow to manage/monetize our lives.
As he grows in his self-awareness, Guy gathers the other NPCs in order to assist in breaking them free from their work cycles. The speech is honestly pretty inspirational, as it dives into the monotony of their lives and inspires them to pursue what they really want to do with their lives and be free. Obviously, this moment is a message to the audience to wake up and not do things you do simply because you think you have to. You’re not just some background character living for someone else’s amusement. You’re so much more. You have freewill and should use it to pursue what you really want. Like the NPCs within the game, we too have power in real life.
When most people bring up simulation theory, it’s often pretty bleak. After all, you’re just code. Therefore, nothing you do is “real” and that you’re “fake”. Nothing truly matters since everything around you is just more code, more facade. But Free Guy has a positive look into life in a simulation and why it matters. Whether or not you are really in a simulation, you still can live a full and free life. (And honestly who’s to decide what’s real or fake, even if made of code?) If you have intelligence, you have free will. What makes your life any less real than the “real world”? What makes you any less alive? Your life and your friends and family are real to you, whether you’re code or flesh.
Despite the story having one of the most interesting underlying messages I’ve seen this year, it is also an amazing action comedy. While Reynolds excels in these roles, he really comes alive onscreen as Guy. With wonderment and lust for life, Reynolds does a great job portraying a character who is learning what it’s like to be truly alive for the first time. His performance is hilarious and gives you a sense of joy watching him evolve.
Filled with video game and pop culture references, Free Guy is definitely targeting the younger generation. As a Disney product, the film takes full advantage of MCU and Star Wars weaponry in the most amusing fight scenes. (This is similar to the partnerships the video game Fortnite has integrated so well into their games.) What’s more, the gaming moments are also done very well. This really feels like a video game, and you can tell that the CGI and special effects team did their homework into other open world games in order to get it right.
Overall, Free Guy is a very pleasant surprise and one of the most interesting and meaningful movies you’ll see this year. With all the video game references and action/comedy that you’d expect from Ryan Reynolds, Guy is great film that gives you both a look into the future of AI and our place in this world.
Free Guy is available in theatres on August 13, 2021.