It was that time of the year again again, as in last year was the first time Knott’s Halloween Haunt was canceled in its history, and this year it was back on (and the crowds were back with a vengeance) and we were looking for movies to see in Buena Park before the show. Usually we go to the CGV, which features Korean films, but they were not doing any shows before 4PM, nor was the AMC. However, the nearby Krikorian was open before noon, even, and we decided on a 2:30PM showing of Malignant. Typically we go for earlier shows and a double-feature, but there weren’t two movies we wanted to see.
The catch being, unfortunately, that the later we start the journey, the more traffic there is, and we actually didn’t get there until after 3PM, leaving us with just enough time to catch this goofy answer to Ready Player One: The Ryan Reynold’s vehicle Free Guy.
It was exactly the sort of porridge we expected, though we all liked it more than we expected.
The premise is that Reynolds is Guy, an NPC who works at a bank in a “Grand Theft Auto”-style game. One day he catches a glimpse of Jodie Comer (Millie/MolotovGirl), and something in him changes, and he begins to break his routine in order to interact with her. The in-game conceit is that players wear sunglasses and NPCs do not and through a series of mishaps Guy ends up putting on the glasses and discovering the game elements, like floating first aid kids, wads of cash, weapons or whatever.
Since he’s not acting correctly, everyone assumes he’s a PC who’s found a way to hack the game so he can wear an NPC skin, but Guy knows no other world than the simulation, and begins to level up to impress Millie. Back in meatspace, Millie’s real mission in the game is to uncover that Soonami, helmed by Antwan (Taika Waititi), stole her revolutionary code, that she wrote (or co-wrote?) with an old friend named Keys (Joe Keery) who now works for Soonami.
It’s basically Frankenstein or maybe Short Circuit, and it contains the usual libels against gamers. Millie and Keys’ revolutionary idea was to have code that evolved (I guess like “Spore”) and have players watch the NPCs rather than kill them (I guess like “The Sims”) but Antwan stole it for his GTA game for…reasons…and it’s somehow the reason for the game’s success, even though the entire plot hinges around Guy achieving sentience just as the game is being phased out.
Look, it’s stupid. I mean, really, really stupid. Not Cryptozoo stupid, but close. But it’s lively and enjoyable and full of fun background gags and Ryan Reynolds is cute and Jodie Comer is cute so shut up and eat your popcorn.
The movie is stupid vague about Keys’ role, except to be the neglected love interest. He basically has the worst sort of role feminists complain about for women: He exists for the girl, who’s the real hero, to discover. They’re presented as a platonic team working on Nobel prize-worthy code, but for no conceivable reason (other than “so the movie can happen”), he’s just a game admin for the guy who ripped him off.
As bad as that is, Antwan is actually worse, embodying the worst stereotypes of Silicon Valley bosses, but who somehow codes the Final (in-game) Boss, and whose only answer to trying to prevent his thievery from being discovered is to take a literal axe to the game servers.
So, so dumb. The overarching message is dumb, too: It presumes the notion that enjoying simulated violence reflects a character flaw, and wouldn’t it be better just to, you know, be nice? Last I looked, one of the biggest video games of all time is Minecraft, which destroys the basis of the question before it’s even asked.
This is just one of those movies where you can enjoy it at the moment and only at a few points feel the edges worn down by focus test groups and relentless fear of alienating anyone. I mean, we could, anyway. There are many nice little touches to the film, like a guy in the background who just runs into walls (“that’s me!” I says) and the cute little bit about Millie using an English accent filter (she’s actually English, but does a good American). Millie’s alter ego is still Jodie Comer, though I swear they did some tricks to make her look different, especially at first. I mean, digital tricks like straightening her nose, not just “shapewear” (as The Flower called it) and makeup.
The only thing that made me want to walk out was at the very end, there’s a brief moment where Captain America’s shield makes an appearance (with a semi-cute/semi-nauseating Chris Evans cameo) and then a (completely useless) light saber, and then I realized “Oh, I’m watching a Disney product.” Actually, if I’d known that I wouldn’t have gone.
But mostly, it’s fine. Like most Hollywood product these days, it lacks any kind of reason to care much about it beyond superficial characteristics of the stars, and the glitzy CGI. You’ll see it, you’ll forget it, except for a vaguely beneficent feeling. Unless you start thinking about it, like I just have.