Ryan Reynolds plays a really nice guy in a crapsack world.
This movie isn’t the first one about a video game character developing sentience, with previous entries ranging from Disney’s Tron (sort-of) to at least one incarnation of Mega Man to the Christopher Lambert vehicle Nirvana. In fact, the craptastic movie Serenity from last year had that plot. However, this movie manages to both update and reinvigorate the concept in ways that make it feel fresh and interesting. A big part of that is that Ryan Reynolds manages to play a sincerely good character with good motivations while still being an unbelievably skilled badass. It’s fun to watch him be a hero and to fight for the underdog. Moreover, the film addresses an interesting point about human nature and why we choose certain things as recreation, particularly violently killing and tormenting other humanoids.
Guy (Reynolds) lives in Free City, a sandbox video game which mostly allows players to commit random acts of mayhem in a city populated by NPCs like Guy. His best friend is Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), a security guard at the bank Guy works at, which gets robbed regularly, though the pair never seem to mind. Things change when Guy spots a player named Molotov (Jodie Comer), who leads Guy to steal a pair of the sunglasses that separate NPCs from Players. He tries to connect with Molotov, who is actually a woman named Millie that believes that Free City was based on stolen code, created by her and her friend Keys (Joe Keery), by its supposed creator Antwan (Taika Waititi). As Antwan plans on releasing a new version of Free City soon, Millie and Guy have to help each other save the digital world (not the one from Digimon).
Part of what makes this movie work is that there are two plots running simultaneously, both Millie’s quest to prove that Antwan stole her code and Guy’s quest for Millie, and they do a great job moving between them. It makes Guy’s awesome action sequences and moments of self-reflection more impactful when balanced with Millie’s more complex and mundane plans to try to thwart Antwan. It’s great that even though Guy is ostensibly the protagonist and Antwan the villain, they never are operating in the same world. The interplay between the real and virtual worlds keeps either from getting boring.
As far as action and humor goes, this movie manages to do both very well. It has some scenes that are, possibly intentionally, reminiscent of Deadpool. It’s weird that, in some ways, this movie manages to do in a few minutes what Ready Player One tried to do for almost two hours. There is a great scene in this movie where Guy gets to be the pop culture blending protagonist that I really wanted to see in Ready Player One, but since Guy does it organically and without commenting too heavily on it, it’s more fun. It’s also interesting that the movie’s plot involves people recognizing that Guy sticking up for the NPCs is something that speaks to our own inner selves. Why do people prefer killing fictional characters rather than being a hero and keeping them safe? Is that a sign that humanity is more prone to violence or just that those are the options that are most fed to us? Well, the movie actually gives an interesting answer at the end, although whether it’s true or not is up to the viewer. Either way, I like that there’s something to chew on for the viewer.
Overall, I really recommend this movie, particularly if you’re a fan of Ryan Reynolds. It has some good jokes, some good action, and some stuff to ponder.