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If there was a movie that perfectly encapsulates the desire to capitalise on current-day pop culture via the silver screen, that honour goes to Free Guy.
There’s no denying it’s a fun film. Ryan Reynolds is never not going to equal an entertaining time. And the overall premise of a video game character come to life is a gateway to fun and inventive storytelling.
Free Guy delivers on… parts of that. Here’s what we thought…
What is Free Guy about?
Ryan Reynold’s Guy lives a happy life in the chaotic, yet comfortably predictable world of Free City. He works at the bank alongside his security guard buddy (named Buddy, played by Lil Rel Howery). He gets coffee every morning and has a growing attraction towards the sunglass-wearing Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer).
However, interacting with her is kind of awkward given Guy is but a Non-Playable Character (NPC) in Free City, a sprawling GTA Online-inspired video game overseen by studio head Antwan (Taika Waititi).
The game itself is the subject of a legal battle between Antwan and Molotov Girl’s player, Millie. That then is further complicated by Antwan’s hiring of Millie’s former friend and fellow game developer, Walter (Joe Keery).
Meanwhile, Guy decides he’s had enough. Donning a pair of player sunglasses, he sets out to climb the player ranks by being the good guy and winning Millie’s affection. And in doing so, he sets off a chain of events that will forever change Free City, and NPCs and players alike.
The cast and crew is a winning formula
Director Shawn Levy knows what he’s doing. The director and producer’s filmography includes genre favourites such as Stranger Things, Shadow & Bone, and the Night at the Museum franchise (and Big Fat Liar, if anyone remembers that masterpiece).
With Free Guy, he successfully keeps the energy at a perfect ten. Something is never not happening in Free Guy, with the plot moving forward at high speed. Meanwhile, visuals are colourful and diverse in their execution.
Backing Levy’s vision up is the charisma train that is Ryan Reynolds. It’s difficult to imagine Reynold’s portrayal of Guy would just amount to a PG-13 rework of Deadpool (given the subject matter, that would totally fit), but pleasantly, he leans more heavily into the character’s innocence and an unironic sincerity that plays well against the profane world of a multiplayer shooter.
Then there’s Taika Waititi, who seems to be doing just whatever he wants in the role of Antwan. His portrayal is deliciously over the top.
Backing Reynolds and Waititi up is a decent cast with decent performances. However, Jodie Comer sometimes falls victim to romantic interest stereotypes. Also, Joe Keery is under-utilised. Filmmakers shouldn’t waste a mop of hair that illustrious.
Action, action, and too much of everything else
In terms of execution, Free Guy has a lot going for it in the diversity of its sequences and the plot that never sits still. Audience members are treated to various locations and the action within Free City (though unrealistic). How on Earth would players pull moves like that using a keyboard and mouse?).
The movie falters in balancing the video game world and the real world. The subplot regarding Millie and her relationship with Walter and the game studio is cinematic fluff. It doesn’t have any weight to it.
And emotional payoffs don’t land when it comes to her relationship with Guy, who has way better chemistry with Buddy when it comes to the movie’s big questions regarding one’s existence and destiny. At least the overall message is solid.
Is Free Guy funny? Yes, but its humour is very of-its-time and it’s not going to age well.
The same can be said with how the movie makes use of pop culture references. The best example one can give is when during its third act, Free Guy starts dropping references to basically everything that Disney owns.
Sure, it makes sense given the existence of real-world video game tie-ins. But in the same way that it didn’t work in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, the references are hollow and don’t land in a positive way.
Free Guy review verdict
Free Guy is a fun time at the cinema. Video gamers in the audience will roll their eyes a few times at certain plot points. The plot itself is bloated.
Shawn Levy struggles to strike a balance between the world of Free City and the melodrama going on in the real world. Not to mention creative decisions that detract from the story. They pull the audience back down to the real world for unsatisfactory reasons.
Reynolds holds the reins with Guy’s innocent charm throughout the runtime while Waititi’s Antwan is wonderfully dramatic.
The rest of the cast are having fun and the overall execution makes for popcorn-munching fun with a satisfying amount of silly.
Featured image: Twentieth Century Studios