Here we have one of the 2020 titles that has been pushed back time and time again that I've pretty much been chomping at the bit for since first seeing a trailer back in late 2019. This seemed to have a concept that was right up my alley, featured Ryan Reynolds in the lead (because who doesn't love the guy?), and looked like it offered some pretty awesome visual effects, along with a gaming easter egg or two. Little did I know, however, that the trailer only scratched the surface on what this movie was all about. Most of what's awesome about this movie isn't actually seen in its trailers.
What we know before going into the movie is that it features a Non-Playable Character (or NPC) named Guy (Reynolds) existing in an open-world, online game called 'Free City'. He works as a bank teller with his best friend, a security guard named Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), blissfully unaware that his life exists within a video game as he goes through the same bank heist routine day in, day out, to the point where it's just part of his day. He begins to deviate from his programming, however, when he runs into user "Molotov Girl" who he claims is the "girl of his dreams". This leads to him eventually stealing a user's sunglasses (users have sunglasses, NPCs do not) and developing a mind of his own, with the ability to see the gamer's display.
Meanwhile, in the real world, we learn that 'Free City' is a famous game whose code was actually stolen from a game called 'Life Itself', created by our two real-world leads, Walter "Keys" McKey (Joe Keery) and Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer). Keys finds himself actually working for Soonami, the company that stole his work and defends things with the impression their creation is still famous, even though it went another route. Millie, however, isn't so forgiving as she spends time playing 'Free City' in search of hints of proof that their code was stolen by Soonami's head developer, the eccentric Antwan (Taika Waititi). She spends her time in the game as "Molotov Girl", and soon enough, without spoling too much, we learn what the connection is between the now self-aware Guy (who takes the time to level up his character and become super famous as "Blue Shirt Guy"), and the pair of 'Life Itself' developers.
This was a fine example of a movie that not only gave me what I wanted to see, but offered more, and the more it offered, the more things about the movie made sense. I went into this thinking it was going to be some fun, mindless, Ryan Reynolds action with some solid comedy. However, when the film is all over, you do manage to see things on a somewhat deeper level than you probably thought you were going to experience. In its own way, the film is actually kind of beautiful, and does a good job of exploring how a self-aware NPC may think, work, etc. I enjoy the fact that when he starts levelling up, he does it very quickly, as it's very likely that his familiarity with the inner workings of the game far exceed the average users.
If I was to mish-mash this together, comparing it to other movies, it's almost like taking 'Ready Player One', 'Scott Pigrim' and throwing them in a blender with 'Eternal Sunshine' and something like 'Inception'. There's a very dream-like quality to things here, but it does a good job at giving us the balance between what's going on in the real world vs what's going on in the game. In some ways, the main character of the film isn't even Guy so much as its Keys and everything he has to put up with in the real world, with Millie acting as the "messenger" in and out of the game. I loved the way everything came together; not necessarily predictable, and when it's all said and done, I was happy about the way things went.
This has a great fun factor to it, and all sorts of easter eggs to keep an eye out for. I'm a sucker for a film where you have to pay attention to the plot but there's so much going on in the background that one might very well miss. It's not like 'Ready Player One' where it's literally everywhere, but it's generally subtly done, and you'll catch a few neat things like the less obvious Mega Man's Mega Buster, or the more obvious Portal Gun (which isn't exactly the same, but we all know what it's supposed to be). It does happen one time where Disney force feeds us some Avengers/Star Wars material, but even that makes for a pretty solid visual gag, so the complaint is there but very minimal. All in all, this is absolutely one of my favourite movies of 2021, and I can't wait to see it again to try to pick up on some more subtle easter eggs!