Gemma Creagh presses enter, as she reviews the latest video game-based feature film, Free Guy.
In a heightened world of Free Guy, where violent, armed robberies are commonplace, Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a man of simple tastes – medium coffee with cream and two sugars; bubblegum ice cream and fancy running shoes. Guy joyfully undertakes the same routine day in, day out: after greeting his fish, he dons his trademark blue shirt. He follows up his morning coffee by meeting his best friend, Buddy, the security guard (Lil Rel Howery). Every day, the bank where they both work is robbed at gunpoint by some zany character in shades, and every day Guy laments on the one thing that’s missing from his near perfect life – his ideal woman.
When he finally bumps into the woman of his dreams, the no-nonsense Molatov Girl played by Jodie Comer, Guy embarks on a journey of self discovery. This culminates in him finally realising that he is a NPC – a non-player background character in the online video game Free City. Meanwhile, in the real world, Molatov Girl is actually a game designer called Millie, who’s searching for proof that Tsunami – the company behind Free City – stole her code. With the help of Guy, and her former partner Keys (Joe Keery) Millie starts to uncover the truth – but not before narcissistic publisher Antoine (Taika Waititi) does everything in his power to stop them.
When it comes to Free Guy, Director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, Night at the Museum) managed to do the near impossible – direct a big budget Hollywood film not linked to any existing IP. He creates a complex set of worlds: the game itself, which embodies a live-action Fortnite meets GTA aesthetic; Millie and Keys’ day-to-day working life; and the responses of the public to what’s happening in the game. These range from quick gags to expositional news reels and feature fictitious gamers, anchors, Alex Trabek and actual streamer and e-sports celebrities, notably Irish youtuber Jacksepticeye.
Free Guy was originally commissioned by 20th Century Fox with plans to hit the big screens in early 2020. After COVID pushed back the release date twice, as well as Disney’s buyout of the studio, it’s finally being released in cinemas – and with a last minute lightsaber added for good measure. Despite the scope of this film, Levy conceived many of the jokes during the edit with the film’s star and producer, Reynolds. This certainly rings true as the Canadian heartthrob’s distinct authorial voice is pretty loud. At times, it’s uncomfortable to watch Reynolds shirking his trademark cutting comments and dark, R-rated quips to play such an earnest role. Still, his seemingly effortless charisma elevates a character that in lesser hands would be one-note.
While based on a fun, relatively unique premise, the plot does suffer from not having one clear protagonist. The interwoven subplots require a lot of detailed exposition that hinders the pacing, and takes up valuable sections of the almost two-hour run time. These moment would have been better spent on character development delivered by the wonderful hands of Comer and Waititi. But in context, these are only minor infringements on what is fundamentally an enjoyable film. And while on the subject of casting choices, Hollywood’s ageism is out in full force with the casting of Comer as a 28-year-old romantic interest opposite Reynalds, who is sixteen years her senior.
Simple and sweet, Free Guy is a striking visual spectacle that’s full of joy. There’s enough meat in the writing and performances to keep the adults entertained, enough pop culture references, and gamer cameos for the younger viewers, and enough silly gags and moments to keep the collective socially distanced audience chuckling into their popcorn.