For the first decade and a half of his career, Ryan Reynolds was an actor who could not figure out who he wanted to be. He dabbled in action movies (Smokin’ Aces, Safe House), superhero flicks (Green Lantern, Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), suspense (Buried) and way too many forgettable romantic comedies (Definitely, Maybe, The Proposal). Before long, especially after Green Lantern, it seemed like he would be one of those actors touted to be the next superstar but ultimately fizzles out (the Taylor Kitsch curse).

Then, in 2016, came Deadpool. For a superhero movie, it was groundbreaking enough in its self-awareness. No less impressive was its R-rating, which inspired big studios to dare to green light the likes of Logan and Joker. Reynolds was not just the best actor to play Deadpool; it apparently could not have happened had it not been for his efforts in getting it made for over a decade. Had it not been for Reynolds, the flippant superhero would have remained a footnote in the X-Men cinematic franchise.

Along this journey, Reynolds seems to have come into himself. He is less interesting when playing mere comedic characters, such as his role in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Instead, he makes more sense playing characters having an uneasy relationship with the world they find themselves in, as in Free Guy.

Unlike Deadpool, who is aware of the fictional universe he occupies, Guy (Reynolds), the protagonist of Free Guy, is entirely clueless about his world. He is a non-playable video game character in the game Free City, which is also a fictional city where much of the action takes place. It is a great deal like Grand Theft Auto (where much of action takes place in Liberty City), which is known as an “open world” game. The virtual world can be explored without the burden of constantly following a mission, meaning that a lot of interaction takes place with non-playable characters. These are like extras in the movie or anyone in real life that we never get to know or meet, thus a periphery.

Guy – better known as “Blue Shirt Guy” – does not have a real name because he is a disposable part of a violent game. Working as a bank teller, he wakes up each day to do the same tasks repeatedly, without asking any questions. But unbeknownst to its video game publishers, the character actually has a code written by the game's original creators that allows him to develop self-awareness, becoming the world’s first artificial intelligence.

Worse still, he starts to be kind to others – a scandalous act in a violent video game. He even brings awareness to the suffering of non-player games, all of whom eventually start to become “intelligent.” The publishers believe that this will hurt sales (among other reasons) and attempt to delete the whole game. Guy has to team up with his original creators to save his world, himself and his non-player friends.

For what sounds like a quirky plotline, the writers put a great deal of thought into how the game works, why the non-player characters eventually become self-aware and the politics of gun violence in video games. The theme is even more impressive.

There is a bit of The Truman Show and The Matrix to Free Guy but given a decidedly comedic turn. Both of the latter are about combating the reality of one’s existence – rebelling against it. They also have a Jesus-like character, a focus of the universe. The Matrix and the Truman Show are about telling us that we are trapped in a system that determines our fate and that we need to break free to self-actualise. Free Guy says that even if we are not Neo, Harry Potter or a Skywalker, from our perspective, we are somebody. We could be trapped in a system, but we could also appreciate the little things, take the good with the bad, and work to improve it in increments.

If these are the types of projects Reynolds has for us going forward, then the future is indeed exciting.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 26,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1117]

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