Thoughts on “Free Guy”

A friend of mine sent me a trailer quite some time back for this movie, mostly because the scene where the guy gets hit by multiple cars reminded him of the “Insurance Fraud” missions in the Saint’s Row games.  Watching it, I thought that it sounded like it might be interesting, as a movie based around an NPC in a video game becoming aware of it and acting accordingly.  I didn’t pay much attention to it, however, until I saw it for sale for a reasonable price in the store I browse for such things in and decided to give it a try.

I’m going to talk extensively about this recent movie, including the ending, and so will continue below the fold for those who might want to watch this movie:

So, there are two main plots in this movie, one in-game and one in the real world.  Well, okay, there’s actually a third subplot which bridges the two, which is a romance plot.  The in-game plot focuses on an NPC in the game who suddenly becomes aware of that fact and feels a yearning to be something more, so he goes out and tries to stop the rather brutal behaviour inside the game and becomes a hero and goes viral for doing that, while seeking out and trying to help and earn the love of one specific player, who is the link to the real world plot.  She’s one of the original designers of the AI that is used in the game, and she and her partner were bought out by a flamboyant and unscrupulous person who it turns out used their code to build his massively successful game and refuses to acknowledge that and pay them royalties, but has managed to hire the partner on and is defending himself against a lawsuit from the original designer.  She’s in the game to try to find a video that proves that their original game world is still in this game, proving that he used the code from their system to make his game.  In-world, he brings all the abilities of the sys admins — who are the partner and the new person he works with — and out-of-world he does anything he can to shut all that down.

The in-game plot is the more interesting plot, as it focuses on him starting out as someone who can wear the glasses that let him see that this is a game world, and then moving on to him finding a purpose — which is being a real hero — and then on him getting the others in the world to see that it’s a game and finding a purpose of their own, and finally to saving the game world when it’s tagged to be shut down by the unscrupulous owner.  His monologues at the beginning are very reminiscent of Deadpool, and so at first it really seems like a less violent Deadpool, with a main character that actually is a hero instead of the guy who explicitly isn’t one.  Of course, that influence almost certainly comes from Ryan Reynolds and how he delivers those statements with the same mildly amused third-wall breaking tone that he uses for Deadpool.  A movie that was based entirely around a character being awakened in time to try to save the game world for himself and the characters he “lives” with and has brought to life would have worked really, really well.

Unfortunately, the real world plot that is welded to this is nowhere near as interesting.  While it would fit in with the gaming plot, the quest in-game isn’t all that well-developed.  We learn that she needs to get in somewhere to get something but have no idea what that is until the very end, at which point it gets destroyed … but becomes extraneous because it’s just a hint for them to go and find the “real” code as the main area from the original, non-violent game is still in the game, and so we have the NPC running to get there while the big boss does everything up to and including destroying the servers to stop it, which is pretty ridiculous.  Also, it’s never really clear what the partner is afraid of when he refuses to help her, but then he ends up helping her when he really shouldn’t (although there might be a reason for that).  Also, the person he’s working with is rather aggressive in trying to shut all this stuff down — including being willing to completely screw over the player base — until the very end, when he finally refuses to tell the boss which servers run the game and, at the end, it seems that all is forgiven for … some reason.  The real world relationships aren’t developed enough to really give us an emotional connection to them, but too much time is spent on them for us to ignore them.

Especially since they tie very tightly into the romance subplot.  The NPC falls in love with the avatar of the original designer, and she starts to have feelings for him as well.  When they are trying to figure out how he could have gained his intelligence, the partner comments that he built that one character with the full AI algorithm that they worked out, but marked it to get activated when he met his true love, that he based on the original designer.  When the character gets reset, she uses that to bring him back to “life” so that he can save everyone else and find the peaceful game world for all of them to live in (the game world they were in was, as noted, a Saint’s Row type of world, and so the NPCs were subject to a lot of violence all the time).  She realizes that she can’t stay with him in that world, and so leaves, but the NPC points out that she might be able to find love with someone similar in the real world.  Yep, the partner was in love with her, which is why he used her as the “true love”, because he of course couldn’t ever bring himself to tell her.  She realizes that and runs to meet him, and they express their feelings for each other across a crowded street.

The problem is that none of this makes sense.  If she didn’t see him that way at all, then her suddenly running to him makes her seem desperate, not finally finding her true love.  And if the NPC and the partner had seemed to have similar personalities it could have worked, but they didn’t really seem to be all that much alike.  So it’s not like she fell in love with the NPC and realized that he was indeed just like the partner and so she could love him as well, but more like she realized that he loved her and that was enough, kinda, sorta?  Again, because the real world relationships were muddled, we didn’t get the idea that he was pining for her until late in the movie, and never got the idea that she was pining for him and that the traits of himself that he put into the NPC were what attracted her to him in the first place, so the emotional heft of the final scene is lost.

The movie also ends up being somewhat insulting to gamers along the way, showing them almost exclusively as basement-dwelling losers and pulling off some decent humour by having all the players act foulmouthedly aggressive in real life, but it goes too far when she and everyone else claims that the NPC is the only decent person in the game, which couldn’t be true … and if someone could get the experience gains for being a hero that the NPC was getting we know that at least someone would try it, and it’s not presented as him using his knowledge of the world to break the rules, but instead as him using the abilities the players get to do that.  Also, it’s very odd that the boss could argue that the original game wouldn’t make any money when essentially it was “The Sims” with smarter AIs.  Admittedly, “The Sims Online” didn’t work, but if it didn’t work it would have been because there was nothing to do there and no real gameplay rather than because playing a normalish life with true AIs would have just been boring (and in real life playing with real NPC AIs would have turned off a lot of the audience for the new game, so them being enhanced AIs wouldn’t necessarily have added to that sort of online game).  I don’t think the writers were as familiar with games as I would have liked.

Still, those sorts of issues are minor.  Overall, the in-game scenes are fun enough that the movie is enjoyable regardless.  It also manages to make an impressive number of real-world references — there’s an Avengers scene that is both predictable and hilarious — and so despite it clunking at times this is a movie that I could definitely watch again.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Free Guy””

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    The movie also ends up being somewhat insulting to gamers along the way, showing them almost exclusively as basement-dwelling losers and pulling off some decent humour by having all the players act foulmouthedly aggressive in real life, but it goes too far when she and everyone else claims that the NPC is the only decent person in the game, which couldn’t be true … and if someone could get the experience gains for being a hero that the NPC was getting we know that at least someone would try it, and it’s not presented as him using his knowledge of the world to break the rules, but instead as him using the abilities the players get to do that. Also, it’s very odd that the boss could argue that the original game wouldn’t make any money when essentially it was “The Sims” with smarter AIs. Admittedly, “The Sims Online” didn’t work, but if it didn’t work it would have been because there was nothing to do there and no real gameplay rather than because playing a normalish life with true AIs would have just been boring (and in real life playing with real NPC AIs would have turned off a lot of the audience for the new game, so them being enhanced AIs wouldn’t necessarily have added to that sort of online game). I don’t think the writers were as familiar with games as I would have liked.

    This is the big one for me. To me it was very obvious that the people who made this movie had absolutely no clue what the modern gaming scene was like.

    Watch “Log Horizon”. It’s much much better.

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