Friday 13 August 2021

Free Guy (Movie Review)

Video games have been the subject of several Hollywood movies of varying quality. On one end of the spectrum, we have films like Wreck-It Ralph and Ready Player One, films that pay respect to the medium while still managing to tell compelling stories. At the other end, we have bottom-of-the-barrel offerings like 2009's Gamer, a film that was just as ridiculous as it was generic. So the question then is where exactly does Free Guy land on this particular quality spectrum,  a question that will be answered over the course of this review.

In Free Guy, Ryan Reynolds plays the titular Guy, a bank teller living in a city that is plagued by near constant crime and mayhem. And much like the other denizens of the city, he is resigned to his fate as cannon fodder for the many "hero" characters responsible for said mayhem. Because unbeknownst to Guy and the other citizens, he is actually a non-playable character in a popular online game called Free City. But when he crosses paths with the woman of his dreams one fateful day, he gets swept up in a mission to save the world he calls home.

Going into Free Guy, I had expected your run-of-the-mill Ryan Reynolds action comedy. And to a degree, that is exactly what the movie delivers, Ryan Reynolds dishing out his particular brand of self-deprecating humor. What I didn't anticipate though was a story that was just as thought-provoking as it was fun. And while that story did tend to conform to some well-worn tropes and story beats we've already seen in similar movies, it did so without feeling too derivative or unoriginal.

Most of that is due to the little surprises that were sprinkled throughout its two-hour runtime. The movie is packed with Easter eggs and references, much like other gaming-centric movies of its kind. It also featured a number of celebrity cameos by popular streamers and some Hollywood A-listers. I won't spoil any of them here, but expect to find more than a few recognizable faces. Take note, Warner Bros. and Space Jam: A New Legacy writers; this is how to use intellectual property the right way.

It was also very refreshing to see a summer blockbuster where most of the action scenes take place in broad daylight. This was no doubt reflective of the film's overall tone, which was wild, wacky and fun, but in a very lighthearted way. The action itself was of course over-the-top and spectacularly so, but given the context in which most of it was taking place, still made sense and generally obeyed the rules it had already laid out for itself.

In terms of acting, the film's ensemble was decent overall. Ryan Reynolds played yet another variation of himself. Likewise, Lil Rel Howery proved to be adequate foil as his best friend, Buddy. Jodie Comer played the dual roles of Millie and Molotov Girl, her in-game avatar, and she'd generally pulled both off convincingly. And Taika Waititi plays the villainous Antwan, an over-the-top representation of the greedy corporate executives most gamers hear about in gaming news headlines.

If I'm being nitpicky, then it is worth pointing out that the film did seem to run out of steam about halfway through its second act, when most of the action ground to a halt to make room for some character development. It is also guilty of oversimplifying the process of game development, but was nowhere as offensive in that regard as the recent Space Jam movie. The film did make up for those shortcomings though with a strong final act that was filled with great action and cool Easter eggs.
Free Guy captures the joyous and chaotic nature of some of today's most popular online open-world games. But even more than that, it tells a heartwarming tale that should delight gamers and non-gamers alike. And although the film might not be a video game movie in the true sense of the word, it should still serve as yet another shining example of a film that successfully pokes fun at the medium while paying homage to video game culture at large.



  1. Still not sure I'll make it to the theater for this one, but at least I won't be totally disappointed if I do.

    1. It is definitely worth going out to see, but yeah, I understand why you might be hesitant.

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