“Free Guy” stars Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Corner, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, and Taika Waititi. Released on August 13, 2021, the film is about a bank teller who discovers that he’s part of an open-world video game.
The film is directed by Shawn Levy, who also directed films such as “Big Fat Liar”, “Cheaper by the Dozen”, “The Pink Panther”, “Night at the Museum”, and “Real Steel”. Video games are an excellent way to test and relax people’s minds and souls, including mine. But what if there was a game that has a mind and soul of its own? Mainly the NPCs that live inside it? That would’ve become a best-seller in a matter of seconds. Summer vacation is close to being done, but there is one more blockbuster to play before we send the kids back to school (hopefully). One that Ryan Reynolds is excited to play with you. After a few delays, thanks to the pandemic, Shawn Levy is finally making a comeback as a director with another film that will test Reynolds’s appeal outside of the “Deadpool” films. While not a perfect filmmaker, Shawn Levy is the type of director who’s pretty consistent with providing entertainment values in his films, even though some of them may not be as good as others. He’s also the guy responsible for the movies I remember watching (and liking) during my childhood and teen years, mainly the 2003 remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the “Night of the Museum” trilogy. So I was pretty excited to see him back in the director’s chair to helm an original project that combines action, comedy, and video games. Was it fun enough to earn a high score? Let’s head into the system and find out.
The film’s story centers on Guy (Reynolds), a happy-go-lucky bank teller who lives in a city where anything is possible. Despite being happy with his life, Guy yearns for something more outside of his routine. While trying to impress a mysterious woman named Molotov Girl (Comer), he discovers that everything around him is part of an open-world game called Free City. His self-awareness is due to an AI program developed by programmers Millie (Molotov Girl’s player) and Walter “Keys” McKeys (Keery) that’s inserted into the game. When the game’s publisher Antwan (Waititi) plans to replace Free City with its sequel, Guy must learn to become a hero and help Molotov Girl save his virtual home. “Free Guy” easily belongs in a category of films that used video game elements for their concepts instead of adapting existing properties into movies like “Resident Evil” and “Mortal Kombat”. Usually, the original video game films work out better than the film adaptations themselves depending on the execution, with “Wreck-It Ralph” being the primary example. Unsurprisingly, this film is no exception. What is surprising, at least in my eyes, is how much fun and heartfelt it was. I went into the theater expecting the film to be a pleasant piece of escapism, which I got, but what I also received along with it was something more. “Free Guy” isn’t just a hilarious and energetic action-comedy. It’s also an unexpectedly thoughtful metaphor about life. There’s more to it that matters outside your usual routine, and it’s up to you to decide who you want to be. Yes, it can be a bit corny at times, but the execution of this metaphor worked so well with the film’s video-game-like world. I seriously couldn’t help but admire how much effort they put into its themes while keeping their focus on their goal to make a consistently fun movie. Combine that with its cast, satire, and good use of CGI, and you get a highly entertaining video game comedy that happens to be Shawn Levy’s best work as a director since “Real Steel”. It shows that Levy can make a film that’s both good and refreshing with the right people on board alongside him, mainly Reynolds and screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. The script had the right moments that weren’t afraid to appreciate its self-aware jokes and sentimentality equally, which adds to the film’s extreme sense of enjoyment. The only minor issue in its story was that it ran a couple of minutes too long. However, its brisk pacing kept things moving along without losing some important character moments. The film’s story was another stellar example of making a fun, family-friendly blockbuster with a soul. The entire cast was captivating from start to finish. Ryan Reynolds managed to knock it out of the digital park as Guy regarding his incredible charm and humor. I would even say that he might be my second favorite Reynolds performance in the actor’s career, with Deadpool still on top of the leaderboard. Jodie Comer was also good in her role as both Millie and her Free City avatar Molotov Girl. Lil Rel Howery and “Stranger Things” star Joe Keery also delivered some suitable performances as Buddy and Keys, respectively. While Millie and Keys have roles that were a bit bigger than Guy’s, the writers did a decent job making them feel significant to the story’s purpose. I also enjoyed Taika Waititi’s portrayal as Antwan, the selfish publisher of the game and the main antagonist. I usually admire Waititi as a unique filmmaker, but seeing him as the villain made me admire him as an actor as well. He had the right idea of how to make a villain hilariously evil. The cast also featured cameos from famous streamers that some of you may be familiar with, such as Jacksepticeye, Ninja, Pokimane, DanTDM, and LazarBeam. All of which worked amusingly well regarding its concept. If any of you gamers are reading this, congrats on being in a movie with Ryan Reynolds. The film also succeeded with its humor, which hit all of my funny bones with its self-awareness and satirization of the video game industry, mainly plagiarism and franchise-building. I didn’t think I would laugh this hard at a film about an NPC, but here we are. I think the moment that got me laughing the most was during the film’s third act. All I can say is that it’s something you have to see for yourself. The humor was also balanced well with some of its visual-filled action sequences. Were they hectic? Yeah, they were, but that’s pretty much the point of this film. Some of the CGI was a bit iffy during a couple of scenes, but the rest of it looked pretty solid regarding the gaming visuals and the city itself.
Overall, “Free Guy” is a late-summer treat that’s hilarious, entertaining, and at times, thoughtful enough to satisfy both gamers and non-gamers alike. It’s a film that works as both a blockbuster and a meaningful allegory about life. With its charming cast, Levy’s direction, solid script, hysterical humor, and lively action sequences, this is the game that’s worth playing with the best sound and the best screen. Not only that, but it is also one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. I may have exaggerated that last sentence a bit, but who cares? I had an absolute blast watching this film, and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen. If you like some of Shawn Levy’s other works and Reynolds as an actor, this film, or in this case, “game”, is worth checking out.