With Free Guy, Hollywood Gives Us a Video Game Movie About the Thrills of, Uh, Labor Disputes
Finally, a video game movie that elevates the exciting issues: labor disputes.
Free Guy is nominally a movie about Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a non-playable video game character, or NPC, finding his humanity after a life of undifferentiated boredom—and then bringing that humanity to his fellow NPCs. Freedom! Self-actualization! Sure.
But mostly it’s a smugly calculated exercise in corporate synergy dressed up as a feel-good story of revolutionary class politics. Not only does it resolve in a rah-rah job action by a virtual city full of NPCs, but its secondary conflict revolves almost entirely around an intellectual property rights dispute between a pair of nerdy indie game designers and the self-important, villainous boss of a major violent video game company. Will they get their residuals for their stupid nonviolent watch-the-waterfalls game? I promise it’s even less thrilling than it sounds.
The movie isn’t subtle about any of this. As the put-upon NPCs gather in their virtual world to listen to one of those get-us-into-the-third-act rallying cry speeches that screenwriting books always insist on, a programmer watching in the real world footnotes what’s happening just in case viewers somehow didn’t catch on themselves.
“It’s like every NPC went on strike,” he says, before belaboring the point even further by exclaiming: “It’s like a digital walkout!” Paying members of the audience may be tempted to stage their own walkout in the physical world.
The movie’s shallow labor politics are intended to give this crass, calculating film the illusion of depth. But as with so many virtual worlds, when you look closely, there’s nothing remotely real to be found. Instead, the movie is a collection of painfully formulaic screenwriter conventions dressed up with some nods to video game culture and conventions—city streets filled with people randomly hopping up and down or glitching in and out of vi
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