(The Vintage Tempest)
Part of Free Guy‘s success owes a debt to the writing team of Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. Both would’ve known about Disney’s TRON and they may have been influenced by its deeper narrative. The world Guy (Ryan Reynolds) lives in is familiar enough. I wondered if a few concepts were taken from the classic.
Our dorky hero in this movie is an artificial intelligence who is becoming self-aware. He knows there’s more to life and his job as a bank teller. He’s the target in robberies and for once, decides to fight back. I recognized elements of the beloved cult film more so in how smart Guy becomes as the film develops. Director Shawn Levy helps add even more hints by saying we need a tank here and a Recognizer (a helicopter) crash and we have a story which I’ll gladly watch repeatedly.
This character learns that he’s a non-player character in a Massively Multiplayer Online world and one day, he breaks against his programming from his creators. He’s a zero who wants to be a hero. Most of this sudden self-awareness takes place when he picks up a pair of sunglasses that reveal a completely different world to him. He sees an augmented reality where there’s video game power ups and data that are character stats of the actual people (who are oddly dressed when compared to him) that are running around in his city.
His existential crisis is short-lived and thankfully so. I wouldn’t want to watch a movie about him questioning his purpose in life. In a manner of hours, he decides he’s had enough and fights back. Like the independent security software in the 1982 movie trying to safeguard a corrupt system, he’s turned into a rogue piece of “software” and runs around saving his friends and levelling up because one player character he’s smitten with tells him too much about the gaming world he’s living in.
Guy’s disruption of the status quo makes up the plot. In the real world, Soonami’s game developers are wondering who hacked into this virtual reality. Walker “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery) and Millie Ruck (Jodie Comer)– the equivalent of programmer Alan Bradley and engineer Lora Bainesare—are searching the system for their original code to which Antwan (played by Taika Waititi) stole. He wrote some new material to cover up and disguise the evidence. Tanks and choppers are flying around often enough to safeguard something.
I wouldn’t say the team stole the ideas from many decades ago. TRON’s lasting legacy is defined by one line from supporting character Dr. Walter Gibbs; he said everything that’s written is imbued with the spirit of the programmer. Lieberman and Penn cleverly update this concept by revealing who actually wrote the code and created the world Guy lives in. I also believe Guy is the artificial intelligence that everyone is searching for. He’s no, pardoning the pun, ordinary guy.
Reynolds is a charmer in the same style as Chris Reeve’s Superman, but only done in reverse. With the glasses, he’s confident and strong, and without he’s awkward. He’s enamoured with Molotov Girl (Millie’s avatar). He’s a version of Walter she never saw. By the time the real life player realizes it, we have a film that’s more about how to face life and those insecurities which sets people back. It’s not about crime (which is everywhere in this MMO) or losing a friend (death isn’t real) either.
I have to wonder how much of these themes existed when this film was originally developed under 20th Century Fox management. When Disney took over, I doubt the desire to continue getting the story right was because they recognized the concepts were straight from one of their films. If it’s even possible to bring Free Guy to Tron 4, I doubt that’s even in the cards. This film introduces the fact that many closed virtual systems exist. One day, they’ll all be connected.
As whether we’ll see more movies (Reynolds confirms Disney’s interest), that’ll be up to the screenwriters and if Shawn Levy will return. I loved how he wrapped up the Night at the Museum trilogy through his guidance, I’m sure he can lead a path to connecting a few films from one studio which take its inspiration from TRON, Ready Player One and The Matrix combined.
5 Stars out of 5