Everything about Free Guy, the latest film venture from Ryan Reynolds, suggests this is a one-note video game concept incapable of levelling up its storytelling. You know, the kind of film that is dripping in cash-money and original concepts but doesn’t have a single idea what to do with any of it.
Thankfully, this theatrical sci-fi comedy is none of those things. Not only is Free Guy good, it’s the film that will save this summer film slate from mediocrity.
Free Guy is part Marvel pop-culture filibuster and part geeky rom-com, with a twinge of darker Mr. Robot-notes hidden in its coding. It appeals to the romantics and video game enthusiasts in all of us while delivering on explosive action.
In the spirit of Guy’s signature catchphrase: this film isn’t just a good time, it’s a great time!
This laughable action-adventure finds solace in Guy’s innocence and immense humor in its expansive video-game format. The film exposes some of its funnier beats through diary room cutaways to the gamers behind the screen, and the evolving backstories of these non-player characters. Even the villain is likeable, thanks to Taika Waititi’s ability to be his unbashful self while mocking the very sequel-loving tyrants who fund these films.
Free Guy embraces the idea that its jokes don’t have to come at the expense of story or characters — a surprise for any theatrical comedy these days.
The result is silly, yet oddly heartfelt, comedy; the very same comedy that has taken television by storm with shows like Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. However, that is not to say this film steers clear of touchier topics, it just has a clear idea of where the line is for once.
Reynold’s Guy will innocently lead into an inappropriate bit, only to reveal he is repeating something a foul-mouthed troll said during a robbery. He showcases the toxicity within the gaming world and yet, refuses to humor it.
One of the great examples of how this film skirts darker subject matter with sharp wit comes when Guy is enlightening the others about the real world’s less violent tendencies, only to stumble into an assumption about lack of gun violence. It is a wonder how a film as goofy as this could make such pristine comments on our political climate without breaking a sweat.
Every scene seems hyper-aware of how women have been portrayed in gaming and rectifies that. The lens is conscious of Millie’s sex appeal and steers clear of the typical male gaze shots. Her slow-mo poses are hot but they are not overly sexualized, and that’s a small step in the right direction for male-led theatrical comedies.
The most surprising revelation of Free Guy is how sturdy the foundation of this premise is.
Guy’s very world he inhabits stems from a video game capable of creating artificial life, an idea scrapped in favor of Free City. Yet as the film begins to explore the digital world, it becomes clear the gaming developers and their sidelined dream project is not throw-away backstory, it is the heart of this plot. Moviegoers are given space and time to explore this richer plot hidden under loveably-idiotic physical comedy bits, piecing together what the dialogue refuses to until we reach its climax.
This premise is a lot like the video game it brings to life, parading around as some mindless open-world “shoot-them-up” comedy, while underneath is a plot brimming with swooning romantics and meaningful character growth. This world-defying premise goes out of its way to bring the better story to the forefront while appealing to the dumber beats of its concept.
Free Guy is actually a rom-com, and no one can tell me otherwise.
In a world where we need more unique love stories on the big screen, it finds unlikely success in Jodie Comer and Joe Keery’s gamers. Their chemistry doesn’t hit you over the head, but as the lawsuit details unravel, it becomes apparent Millie and Keys have a complicated relationship overflowing with messy enemies to lovers potential.
The real triumph for this romance comes at the end of the film when Millie connects the dots and realizes everything she finds charming about Guy’s coding is, in fact, Keys. Guy shares the same interests as Millie because Keys hid his pining for his partner in the programming. The reveal that Guy is a love letter to Millie and somewhere out there is the author is *chef kiss* perfection.
Surely, some cinema-goers will be put off by the ways this film uses pop culture to elevate its story, but if you enjoy things and enjoy when those things reference other things you like, then Free Guy is your jam. Anyone that views these tactics as lazy storytelling has not familiarized themselves with Shawn Levy’s brand. The director has built a successful career on projects revered for their self-awareness of pop culture (Stranger Things and Night at the Museum). Ryan Reynolds is no stranger to using mockery of other franchises to elevate Deadpool’s fourth-wall-breaking.
This film is just more of that on a new and exciting playground.
Yes, it is not without its plot holes and struggles. For instance, when skilled coder Mouser tells Keys, “It’s just a glitch, man. Don’t worry about it,” and the two smugly move on. As someone that recently binge-watched Mythic Quest in its entirety, even I know glitches don’t just fix themselves.
As the film goes on, it has a tighter grasp on its virtual world-building, layering scenes with dozens of gamer-friendly details, like mesh walls and players parkouring up the side of buildings. There are even gamer cameos to further establish this is less about gimmicks and more about providing an authentic experience for those that will care to notice.
It’s a video game that’s less about world-building and more about character building. This is no doubt an unexpected choice for the soon-to-be franchise with its advertise-heavy plot. Throw in a few plot points explaining why Free City is an underdeveloped world, tie it to your wacky villain, and this sci-fi project demonstrates an eerie capability of tying up loose ends.
Free Guy demonstrates how the industry can approach video game movies going forward and suggests direct adaptations aren’t nearly as enticing as developing original concepts.
Rarely in cinema are the celebrity cameos so well executed. Free Guy goes the whole ten yards with this one, charging into the heat of battle and distracting the audience with a strangely buff Ryan Reynolds for extra measure. When Guy reaches for his arsenal of weapons, you expect a vaporizing gun or something goofy like that — not the Captain America shield!
That first shot of the weapon is such a brilliant tease, and then when the camera pans forward to reveal the iconic stars spangled design and — wow! The epic soundtrack that follows suggests this is where the exuberant budget ends. However, the film uses those clever cut-aways to throw the whole kitchen sink at us in the form of Captain America himself. Seeing Evan’s beautiful face outraged at Reynolds man-handling the shield and going full Knives Out with a “WHAT THE SHIT!” is the stuff of dreams.
If this movie makes one major mistake, it is the very cameo responsible for its greatness. You cannot throw Chris Evans at us like that and reasonably expect movie-goers to invest in the rest of the film when all we want to do is buy tickets to the next show to relive the best surprise cameo of our post-lockdown lives.
In its quest to be the easter-egg-filled action-adventure of our fleeting dreams Free Guy uses that big Disney money well.
This self-aware action comedy is self-care entertainment.
Reynold’s absurd buoyancy coupled with Comer’s stellar range will distract and delight for a few hours in an air-conditioned theatre. The happy ending between lovers and best friends will warm even the most pessimistic of watchers.
If you play video games, you will enjoy this movie and, if you don’t play video games, you will still enjoy the purest form of fleeting entertainment blockbusters can provide.
Free Guy’s heart-warming approach to the action genre leaves us with virtual escapism that had every chance to fail and instead turned out one of the most fun theatre spectacles of the year.
Free Guy is exclusively in theatres now.