Movie trailers are masters at the art of deception and misleading. Constantly setting up plots and characters that pull the viewer, myself included, in. I will admit my excitement for this film was raised exponentially by the trailer. George Washington with chainsaw arms, Samuel Adams as a frat bro, Thomas Edison as a magician, and Killer Mike (½ of Run the Jewels) as a blacksmith, in this retelling of the American Revolution sounds like a great idea. The film also looked like a smart satire mixed with humor that evoked memories of Deadpool. I thought that this film could be one of the best animated films of the year, as well as one I could massively enjoy. Unfortunately I was quickly let down by this very juvenile and unfunny film.
Before I begin tearing most of the film apart, I’d like to talk about the animation style and a few scenes that stuck out. A style that while clearly not hand-drawn, is the best imitation of hand drawn animation I have seen in a long time. There are also some very enjoyable scenes that I found throughout the film. Specifically the final battle, shown briefly in the trailer, that includes buses acting as AT-AT walkers, George Washington in a stars and stripes baseball jersey and chainsaw arms, and Killer Mike as a hilarious blacksmith.
I found almost all of the jokes to fall flat, even the running gag about a bar called “Vietnam”. Jason Mantzoukas has finally found a role where I found him annoying, and it does not work in anyone’s favor. I constantly found his blind racism spoof to be annoying and not at all smart. Especially his rapport with Olivia Munn’s “Thomas Edison”, Killer Mike’s “Blacksmith”, and Raoul Max Trujillo’s “Geronimo” are some of the most annoying bits in the film by far. Even the celebrity cameos they were able to get for this film are not at all welcome and feel especially out of place. With a bad screenplay, ok animation, and an annoying voice cast, I found this not worth a watch and one of the biggest disappointments so far this year.
Late July, the frozen steak brand Steak-umm posted a lengthy Twitter thread, replete with steak puns galore, on “societal distrust in experts and institutions, the rise of misinformation, cultural polarization, and how to work toward some semblance of mutually agreed upon information before we splinter into irreconcilable realities.” A frozen thin-sliced steak brand then proceeded to elaborate on our current societal fracturing, making some pretty reasonable points in the process—it was remarkable and remarkably absurd. Yet this is where we are today—brands and corporations on Twitter (most of them much larger than Steak-umm) acting like people, using Twitter to wield millennial and Gen Z jargon as a marketing weapon. It can be funny, it can be thought-provoking, it can be really weird to see Netflix tweet about Nightcrawler’s critique of capitalism while it leeches people away from independent movie theaters.
Free Guy, 20th Century Studios’ latest release (20th Century Studios sounds so naked without “Fox,” doesn’t it?), is all about critiquing unchecked corporate power, pushing for original ideas amidst a sea of sequels and remakes, and sticking it to the man even as it was distributed by a subsidiary of Disney, whose success almost single-handedly relies on fondness for IPs such as Marvel and Star Wars, IPs which have the cinematic world in a chokehold. Even as Free Guy lampoons its creators, it relies on those Disney brands for humor and cultural relevance (just look at its marketing).
But as long as you don’t think too much about it, Free Guy is a whole lot of fun. (Plus, the cameos and musical cues the Disney/Fox merger allowed the filmto have are admittedly pretty damn funny.)
Free Guy’s titular hero, played by Ryan Reynolds with his usual charm, is a bit unusual: he’s an NPC (non-playable character) in Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite’s spiritual child, Free City. He goes through the day, hitting the same beats over and over again with his friend Buddy (Lil Rey Howery). He gets up, goes to work as a bank teller, suffers through the havoc that the playable characters wreak on his world, and goes to bed. His routine, however, changes when he spies playable character MolotovGirl (Jodie Comer), who awakens something in Guy that prompts him to break out of his programmed life.
MolotovGirl takes a great interest in Guy because, as it turns out, she created him. (There could be some Freudian analysis done here about how MolotovGirl is Guy’s creator/mother, but also his love interest… just saying.) Behind the computer screen, MolotovGirl goes by Millie, and she and Walter, aka Keys (Joe Keery), had once made an indie game called Free Life back in school, which had NPCs that would grow and evolve, like artificial intelligence, rather than simply go through the motions; the two had sold the game to Soonami Games, but its head, Antwan (Taika Waititi), shelved it and secretly used the code to build Free City. Millie, looking for proof to use against Antwan in her lawsuit, realizes that Guy could be the key.
Director Shawn Levy deftly balances the game and real worlds, seamlessly switching between the two and managing to entwine them organically, and he brings out good performances from all his cast members, proving again that Jodie Comer should be (and will be) a star, and giving hope that maybe Steve Harrington can have some luck with girls after all. (Joe Keery’s hair, by the way, does actually just look like that in real life, as I discovered when I spied him at brunch several years ago.) Waititi’s Antwan is perhaps better suited to be a zany NPC than a smarmy gaming developer, but he has his moments, too; everyone, at some point or another, gets a big belly laugh—or at least a hearty chuckle—from the audience, but underneath is a charming, heartfelt message on the power of creativity and the triumph that comes with not selling your soul to follow the money.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a weird throughline, considering who made the film; it’s hard to praise this as an original blockbuster when it relies so heavily on cultural knowledge of other things, but sometimes you just want to have fun, and Free Guy certainly delivers a sweet dose of it. There are weird video game weapons, Channing Tatum busting out some Fortnite inspired moves, a jacked version of Guy called “Dude” who goes around yelling, “CATCHPHRASE!,” and Taika Waititi acting absolutely out of his mind. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but it did more than enough to win me over.