Ryan Reynolds is an NPC gone rogue in video game action-comedy Free Guy
Ryan Reynolds brand of snarky comedy has become a mainstay of the summer blockbuster, so turning his attention to the behemoth video games industry seems a guaranteed hitmaker. But rather than just throw Deadpool into a first person shooter (and damn, I would watch the hell out of that) Free Guy attempts a plot rather more ambitious and a lot more innocent – so does it all come together?
Reynolds plays Guy, a bank teller working in Free City; a town that is besieged by robberies, car chases and random acts of violence. After a chance encounter with the uber-cool Millie (Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer) Guy discovers that the world he knows is all a game, and he and all his friends NPC’s (non-player characters) who exist only to be used and abused by players having fun. After becoming self aware, Guy sets out to become a player himself and take control of his own destiny. Not just as a good guy, but a great guy.
Meanwhile in the real world Millie and her partner Keys (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery) are indie game developers infiltrating Guy’s game Free City with a mission to prove that goliath games company Soonami has stolen their code – though that mission gets a little more complicated when they learn that the characters are starting to develop artificial intelligence. The villain of the piece is Antoine (an absurdly over the top Taika Waititi) – the head of Soonami who steamrolls his employees whilst putting profits above all else – he is determined to delete Guy’s rebellion and stop Millie and Keys from showing the world the truth.
Though the Free City game seems to be loosely based on the sort of missions you’d get in Grand Theft Auto, Free Guy follows in the footsteps of Wreck It Ralph and Ready Player One by crafting an original story that gives a playful nod to your favourite games rather than attempting the sort of strict adaption that always disappoints die hard fans.
First things first, I am a gaming philistine and clearly not the target audience for this film. I don’t own any consoles, only have one game on steam and didn’t recognise any of apparently super famous gamers and streamers who make cameos in Free Guy. Thus I was pretty cynical going in – the first act seeming to try pretty hard to be ‘down with the kids’ (of which I am not one.) It’s incredibly cheesy at times, and with some plot points that are overwhelmingly reminiscent of The Truman Show; nowhere near as original as it might think it is.
Yet before long I was entirely sucked in to the ride. Free Guy is frivolous fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s cast of charming characters are self aware enough to keep things light and zany throughout even when the filmmakers try to shoehorn in some proper ‘life lessons.’ The cast has an easy chemistry and if the press interviews are anything to go by had a hell of a good time making it – which always rubs off on screen. The action is slick and brightly coloured, gadgets and weapons cleverly used, and the pop culture references free flowing. It’s an easter egg hunters dream.
Free Guy had been in production at 20th Century Fox before it’s acquisition by Disney and for this film in particular that merger has been a real positive – allowing the film makers to use references to other Disney owned franchises that work so, SO well. There were actual audible cheers in my theatre at a couple of these moments and some very effective big name cameos that went down a storm. An awkwardly dancing Channing Tatum had me in absolute stitches.
Reynolds and Comer have good chemistry (I am thrilled to see her getting some big screen roles) and whilst the romantic subplot might be bleedingly obvious to predict it is still sweetly done and unobtrusive to the main story, so your grumpy teenagers should still be happy. Friendship and best friends is another over arching theme with some great scenes between Reynolds and his best bud Buddy (Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery) serving as a cute diversion from all the explosions and reminder of the important things in life.
A big budget action comedy that is for once not a sequel or a remake, Free Guy is a real crowd pleasing summer blockbuster that manages to be surprisingly wholesome for all it’s over the top virtual reality. A pulpy popcorn flick that attempts a 21st Century update to The Truman Show – Free Guy promises a fun night out for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Free Guy is out in cinemas on 13th August 2021. Book your tickets here