If you've not seen it yet, Ryan Reynolds has a new film out called Free Guy and it's pretty good by all accounts. It's been trapped in that awkward limbo of basically being finished for a good year but with a screening date falling sometime between The Emergence Of A Deadly Respiratory Virus and Now.
The year-long delay hasn't harmed its quality though, nor dated any of its witty riffs on the gaming industry, which are some of the most current and relevant jokes ever committed to the big screen when it comes to its little screen sibling. Anyone privy to the 2009 Gerard Butler vehicle Gamer would understand the trepidation most people might have approached Free Guy with.
Despite the similar setup (dude is in a video game, at the whims of human players, marrying deep philosophical questions about free will and predestined fate with large explosions) Free Guy seems to understand a little more about what topics are actually ripe for lampooning than Gamer, and many other gaming-themed movies before.
The first obvious win is recognizing that a movie about gaming is going to, by definition, be silly. It has to be fun, and self-aware, and referential rather than too self-serious and po-faced. But the other is taking a more nuanced look at what exactly in games themselves leads to scenarios that give the opportunity to be fun.
The titular Guy, instead of starting off as the main character, is a mere NPC who gains awareness of his existence. This opens up exciting doors for very specific jokes about the weird AI behaviors of NPCs, and manufactures a way to give them an opinion about the equally bizarre stuff players get up to when you take away societal limits.
Free Guy also makes use of the mini industries that have cropped up in and around gaming to lend further cred to its deep understanding of the space. Cameos from plenty of big streamers (and big companies) make it a more authentic world to get drawn into, without derailing the entire production.
Other movies have found good ways of bringing specific gaming knowledge into their humor while appealing to a wider audience, probably most effectively in Pixar's Wreck-It Ralph. But adding elements of development and the studio environment is a fairly fresh edge for gaming-related comedies.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia co-creator Rob McElhenny has brought the same niche understanding and converted it to broad appeal in his Apple TV series Mythic Quest, which perfectly nails a comedy set in the studio of a game developer. Both Mythic Quest and Free Guy understand that using gaming as a backdrop for telling unrelated stories is old hat. There are plenty of stories that exist and can only be told through the lens of the industry.
It's refreshing to see entertainment for the masses move away from the cheap jokes about (read: at the expense of) gaming and find out what about gaming is actually funny. Hopefully this can usher in a golden age of big-budget explorations of exactly what Skyrim characters are thinking when you shout them off a cliff.