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Free Guy Is a Heartfelt and Unexpectedly Great Video Game Movie

Gizmodo logo Gizmodo 8/5/2021 Germain Lussier

Ryan Reynolds, Lil Rel Howery are posing for a picture: Ryan Reynolds looms large as all manner of things that fly swarm around him on a crop of the poster for Free Guy. Below him are Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery in a police uniform, Joe Keery, and Utkarsh Ambudkar in a pink bunny costume. © Image: Disney Ryan Reynolds looms large as all manner of things that fly swarm around him on a crop of the poster for Free Guy. Below him are Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery in a police uniform, Joe Keery, and Utkarsh Ambudkar in a pink bunny costume.

A crop of the poster for Free Guy.

Anyone who has seen the trailer for Free Guy probably thinks they know exactly what the film is going to be—and that’s partially true. Directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Stranger Things), it’s a big-budget, video game-influenced movie about Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a NPC (non-playable character) in a massive online shooter video game called Free City, which is kind of Fortnite meets Grand Theft Auto. He walks around Free City oblivious to everything while real-life players cause unheard of carnage all around him. Until, one day, he realizes what’s actually happening and does something about it.

That much is obvious. What those trailers don’t tell you about the film is that Guy’s story is much more impactful and complex. It’s a love story. A story about human acceptance, empathy, and even the nature of existence itself, packaged in a bright, beautiful popcorn movie with plenty of comedy and action along the way. All of which is to say, Free Guy is way better than you may have been expecting—in fact, it’s absolutely joyful.

While Guy is the central character in the movie, things really kick into gear with the introduction of Millie, played by Killing Eve breakout Jodie Comer. She’s a top-level Free City player who also happens to be a game designer and believes the person who made Free City—the rich and powerful Antoine (Thor: Love and Thunder’s Taika Waititi)—stole important work she and her partner Keys (Stranger ThingsJoe Keery) did and used it in this game. So Millie goes into Free City to try and expose him, which is where Guy sees her, quickly falls in love, and breaks out of his usual NPC routine.

a person walking down a busy city street: Guy discovers Free City in Free Guy. © Photo: 20th Century Guy discovers Free City in Free Guy.

The downside to Free Guy is that once those basic bones of the story are set, you’ll probably figure out exactly what’s going to happen—even if there are a bunch of steps along the way. However predictable, the journey to get there makes up for it by being akin to a rocket ship; from the moment Free Guy begins, Levy and his team do not let up. It’s fast-paced with a light, breezy tone, and every scene is jam-packed with jokes, both through the story and in the background, plus tons of Easter eggs. The action is used not just to entertain, but to develop characters, which in turn endears them to the audience. While it’s very respectful and true to gaming culture, it’s one of those movies that almost anyone could watch and find enjoyment in.

As Guy, Ryan Reynolds is basically just Ryan Reynolds. That’s not a bad thing, he’s great. But for the most part, he’s mostly presenting his usual wisecracking, handsome self. It works perfectly for the character and there’s a dash of innocence that gives Guy a bit of a twist but, for the most part, what you expect is what you get. Beyond just Reynolds though, the cast shines even brighter. Comer has a level of authority and swagger mixed with naivety and vulnerability which makes Millie hugely endearing. Waititi is laugh-out-loud hilarious as the villainous megalomaniac Antoine, and while Keery’s Keys is basically the straight man in the story, he does so with confidence and care. Throw in Pitch Perfect’s Utkarsh Ambudkar as Keys’ malleable co-worker, Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery as Guy’s best friend Buddy, and a laundry list of cameos, and the cast really brings Free Guy to a whole new level.

a person sitting on a motorcycle: Jodie Comer as her avatar, Molotov Girl. © Photo: 20th Century Jodie Comer as her avatar, Molotov Girl.

The visual effects of Free Guy are noteworthy too, not because they’re particularly flashy, but because they’re just flashy enough to make the world of Free City seem both fun to live in and kind of real. That’s important so we buy into Guy’s journey and feel like the game is as important as our reality, and ultimately, that balance is what makes Free Guy so good. On one level, it’s just a fun, simple story set primarily in a video game. But by weaving the real and fantasy worlds together, Free Guy makes us care about the characters in ways that elevate it from any potential mediocrity. Guy’s journey becomes a window into the way you should treat strangers and his feelings for Millie are revealed to come from somewhere pure and heartfelt. The film also explores the idea that something original should be celebrated for its originality, instead of simply mass-marketed and repackaged. The way people have their eyes opened to new realities can be seen as literal or through a social lens, and as people in the world watch Guy’s journey, everyone seems to find their own unique brand of inspiration.

Free Guy has a lot of ideas floating throughout, but never to a point where it feels preachy. If you just want to go along for the ride, you can do that too. Oh, and the film’s final act is a surprised-filled cornucopia—a cathartic cacophony of satisfying payoffs both narratively and emotionally that brings everything together beautifully. Sure, you knew how Free Guy was going to end 10 minutes after it started, but seeing how it all plays out is not only good old-fashioned fun, it’s got heart and smarts to boot. I feel safe putting Free Guy on a list with Wreck-It Ralph and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as some of the best video game-themed movies in recent memory.

Free Guy opens in theaters only on August 13.

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