Ryan Reynolds proves that style over substance can make a fun film
By Diana Beechener
Every day is awesome for Guy (Ryan Reynolds: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard). He gets up, greets his goldfish, grabs a coffee, and goes to work at the bank with his best friend. Then get robbed 3 to 10 times, and then Guy grabs dinner and goes home.
When he’s got a free moment, Guy watches the superheroes—people who wear sunglasses, drive crazy vehicles, fly, and pull guns seemingly from thin air. Guy’s always admired these superheroes, which is why, when he gets the chance to wear a pair of sunglasses, he immediately puts them on.
That’s when Guy realizes something’s wrong in his perfect little world. There are health packs floating in the street. Brutality bonuses hovering over fights. And he earns money every time he grabs a weapon.
Guy’s not living in a fantasy—he’s living in a video game. As an NPC (Non-Player Character), Guy’s whole existence is to repeat the same loop unless a player decides to maim him. After meeting his dream girl, Millie (Jodie Comer: Killing Eve), Guy decides that he’s going to make this video game existence work to his benefit.
Can an NPC make himself a main character?
Free Guy is essentially The LEGO Movie set in the world of Grand Theft Auto. Filled with cartoonish violence and wry jokes about video game culture, this is a movie that’s only really funny if you understand the world it’s parodying. Director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things) has no time to explain the world of an online video game to you, you either get it or you don’t. Levy does a great job of peppering in thousands of references, from Marvel to Capcom games, and keeping the story moving at a breakneck pace. But the film is ultimately a fairly shallow game of “spot the reference” that could be maddening for those whose video game knowledge stopped at Mario Brothers.
The similarities to The LEGO Movie don’t end with the in-game world. There’s also a B-plot that’s not nearly as interesting happening in the “real world”. In Free Guy’s case, Levy has saddled Taika Waititi (The Suicide Squad) and Comer with trying to make a story about servers and market shares interesting. Amusingly, the “real world” storyline also features a call for originality and creative expression which is clearly not what happened during the making of this film. Waititi does his best, camping it up as a nightmare game developer with childish impulses and ridiculous style, but ultimately Free Guy is best when it’s in the world of the game.
Mostly, this is due to Reynolds giving an aggressively likeable performance. His Guy is innocent and sweet, though he gets a bit more cutting as he becomes self-aware. The whole role is poorly characterized, but Reynolds’ charisma single-handedly holds it together. It also helps that Reynolds has seemingly called in every favor he’s ever been owed. There’s lots of references to Disney-held properties, and some genuinely hilarious cameos that will not be spoiled in this review.
Still, Free Guy is, at its core, a bag of candy. It’s fun to consume, but not really that good for you. Whether or not you want to consume it is really up to you. You could do worse: the 2015 film Pixels is a video game movie utterly devoid of charm or interest. If you’re a gaming enthusiast, you’ll probably have a great time pointing out the Easter eggs and laughing at the jokes. But if you’re uninterested in video games or the culture that surrounds them, this will be an incomprehensible slog.
Fun for Gamers, Fair for Everyone Else * PG-13 * 115 mins.