Movies adapted from video games, more often than not, tend to get a negative reaction from audiences. Studios haven’t quite figured out how to take the elements of gameplay and adequately tailor them for viewing on the big screen. It’s a curse that gamers and film buffs equally hope will be broken someday. But what about an original story centered on the world of online gaming? That’s what the new Ryan Reynolds led action/comedy Free Guy attempted. And, much to my surprise, it succeeded in creating a story that was completely engaging, filled with humor and heart, and most importantly of all, endlessly entertaining.
Free Guy follows an NPC (Non Playable Character) named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) living within a popular online video game called “Free City.” Guy doesn’t know that he’s essentially a computer character living within a fictional world. He isn’t real. He wakes up every day and follows the same routine he’s been programmed to. He wears the same blue shirt, works at the same bank and exists only for the real life gamers to fulfil side missions and escape the reality. He’s a background character. That is until he sees a beautiful gamer known only as “Molotov Girl,” who drastically changes the course of his journey.
Guy is a simple man, questioning and exploring his surrounding with a childlike wonder that Reynolds captures perfectly. His bubbly persona and unbreakable glee are infectious. Free Guy is the type of feel good film with a lovable lead that audiences have been missing since the Will Ferrell led Christmas classic Elf. This film, perhaps more than any other this summer, is the film that should welcome families back to the cinema. It is a popcorn flick through and through, and it’s a top notch one at that.
I’ll be completely honest and say that my expectations for this film were, at first, quite low. Perhaps, it was because of the perception of video game movies (that dreaded curse). Or maybe it was just the expectation of another generic action/comedy starring Ryan Reynolds with a virtual reality gimmick. Director Shawn Levy doesn’t exactly boast the most impressive of resumes. His films (The Pink Panther, Night at the Museum, Date Night and others) tend to struggle to generate laughs with middling plots and unlikable characters. Whatever the reasoning, Free Guy quickly proved my expectations wrong by being a far greater film than I’d anticipated.
It succeeds for many reasons, but first and foremost is the incredible cast. There is, of course, Ryan Reynolds, who is at his best since starring in the Deadpool films. Rounding out the rest of the cast are the tremendously talented Jodie Comer (Killing Eve), Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), Joe Keery (Stranger Things) and Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit). Waititi steals every scene he is in (naturally), and delivers one of his funniest performances yet. And that’s saying a lot for the man who has played Korg (MCU), Viago (What We Do in the Shadows) and imaginary Hitler (Jojo Rabbit).
Mixed in with the laughter and the vibrant theme park visuals, Free Guy delivers a grounded story filled with heart and emotion. It’s reminiscent of The Truman Show. The lead is living in a world that has been manufactured around him for the entertainment of others. It’s a concept that opens the door to exploring the ideas of free will and the longing to achieve a greater destiny. The film bounces back and forth between the real world and the virtual world of “Free City,” balancing the development of story and characters extremely well.
Free Guy is filled with Easter eggs, cameos and clever nods to the world of online gaming. It’s a fun and entertaining experience that’s suitable for kids and adults. I had the pleasure of taking my 12 year old daughter to see the early screening of Free Guy, and afterwards she turned to me and said, “There were no slow parts to that movie. It was really good the whole time.” And I’d have to agree. 8/10