PLOT: A mild-mannered bank teller named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) discovers he’s a background character in a popular, ultra-violent open world video game called Free City.
REVIEW: It’s been a hot minute, but Ryan Reynolds’ highly anticipated FREE GUY is finally hitting theatres after more than a year of delays. Think about it – the first trailer dropped way back in December of 2019. That’s a long time to wait for a movie, but clearly, 20th Century Studios and Disney are hyped on the franchise potential for this one, with Reynolds himself saying he hasn’t been so fully immersed in a film since Deadpool. You can tell because he’s cast to perfection here as a non-playable character in a widely popular shoot-em-up video game called Free City who suddenly becomes self-aware. His character, Guy, is initially happy enough with his life, which includes getting robbed every day by gun-wielding users at the bank he works. Things change when Jodie Comer’s “Molotov Girl,” a skillful Free City player, comes waltzing into his life. It’s love at first sight for this smitten player, with him becoming a virtual hero in his AI world, something that catches the attention of players worldwide, along with the game’s infamous developer – Taika Waititi’s Antoine.
Overall, this is a fun if slightly familiar movie. Gaming has certainly become a part of our pop culture at this point – and in fact, I’d wager for some it’s the dominant entertainment – especially in the wake of Covid-19. When we were locked indoors for a year, how many of us took solace online with games like Fortnite, Animal Crossing, and more. Free Guy‘s premise, in some ways, isn’t unlike Ready Player One, but it has a killer twist – that the lead is a character within the videogame. With his good looks, square jaw, and vitality, Reynolds certainly feels like a video game character come to life, and I don’t know if there’s anyone out there that could have played the part as well. He has the comic chops needed but also looks good doing action, which is important. Despite the relatively low-key stakes, the film is loaded with wall-to-wall action, albeit the cartoonish kind that makes this solid family entertainment.
Where the film starts to feel more familiar is in the supporting parts. Jodie Comer’s gamer feels lifted right out of Ready Player One, as does Waititi’s villain, but for the sake of spoilers, I won’t get too into their parts here. Comer’s acting is spot-on through, with her playing the cool, confident action heroine within the game, sporting her seductive English accent, while outside the game, she’s more mousy and innocent – it’s a perfect dual role. I was also impressed by Stranger Things star Joe Keery in a bigger part than you’d think, as a coder working for Waititi who is connected to both Comer and Free World. I always think of him as a teen, thanks to Stranger Things, but the fact is Keery is pushing thirty, and it’s cool to see him playing someone his age. Director Shawn Levy is the executive producer of Stranger Things, certainly helped allow Kerry to stretch his wings a bit, and he seems like a star on the rise. Waititi seems to be having a ball as the intentionally non-threatening villain, riffing with his co-stars in a part that I’m sure was written for him. I should mention that the movie is peppered with wall-to-wall cameos from Reynolds and Levy’s famous friends. The two are known to be two of the most beloved guys in showbiz, so it’s no surprise an army of their former co-stars shows up to play here, including a surprisingly lengthy part for a leading man who’s been off the screen for years. Yeah – I’m not going to spoil who it is here.
Free Guy is one of Levy’s best films as a director, with it comparing favorably to his underrated Reel Steel. He brings a real sense of wonder and imagination to the film, and 20th Century Studios being a part of Disney means the film is full of wall-to-wall easter eggs that will blow away fans of their most popular franchises.
The film also benefits from a terrific sense of pace, being one of the few recent action films that’s not a bloated two hours plus. With credits, Levy keeps the movie cranking along at under two hours, and it’s refreshing. There’s no bloat here – just a lot of energy. The look of the film is great, with DP George Richmond bringing the same vivid look to the film as he did on the Kingsman films. The soundtrack is peppered with tons of nineties hits, including Mariah Carey’s well-loved Fantasy and many other fun needle drops.
Free Guy feels slightly familiar at times, with the genre having been done to great effect in everything from Tron to Wreck-It Ralph, but Ley and Reynolds have a good take on the material and have cranked out a film I’m sure would have been a smash hit outside of Covid times. I notice Disney is making this an exclusive theatrical release, so clearly, they have a ton of faith in it. I’m not surprised – Free Guy is a blast.