Free Guy Director: Shawn Levy
Screenwriter: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Rated PG-13 | 115 Minutes
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Directed by Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Netflix’s Stranger Things), Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) as Guy, a bank teller who discovers he is actually an NPC (non-player character) in a popular video game and decides to become the hero of his own story.
Guy lives a simple existence. Every morning, he wakes up, puts on his signature blue shirt and khakis, and stops for coffee on his way to Free City Bank. There, the perpetually cheerful teller recites his mantra to every customer he encounters: “Don’t just have a good day – have a GREAT day.” Even when the bank is being robbed by carnage-craving criminals, Guy and his best friend, security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), remain upbeat and optimistic.
Things change when Guy discovers he’s a background player in the ultra-violent, open-world video game Free City. Like Grand Theft Auto, Free City encourages players to create as much chaos and destruction as possible, rewarding them for committing acts of violence and vandalism. He meets bad-ass action hero Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer), who helps him navigate the game and come to terms with the fact that he’s living in a simulation.
Together, Guy and Molotovgirl — Millie in the real world — team up to take down Free City and its greedy, repugnant creator Antwan (Taika Waititi), who stole the code from a game Millie and her friend Keys (Joe Keery of Stranger Things) created. Realizing the threat Guy poses to the future of Free City and its hotly anticipated sequel, Antwan deploys Keys and a coder named Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar) to remove Guy from the game permanently.
Free Guy uses the vocabulary of video games to tell a story about people who feel like spectators — outsiders, relegated to the margins — taking a more active role in their own lives. Guy and Millie feel directionless and struggle to find purpose in their life, but Guy’s inherent optimism (and naivety) prevents him from seeing things the way Millie does. Watching Reynolds’ overwhelming positivity bounce off Comer’s unrelenting cynicism not only provides much of the film’s humor, but a lot of its heart.
Written by Matt Lieberman (2019’s The Addams Family and 2020’s Scoob!) and Zak Penn (X2: X-Men United, Ready Player One), Free Guy is a lot like its star: funny, charming, surprisingly sweet, and hopelessly Canadian. It’s a feel-good action-comedy that offers up computer-generated spectacle while exploring deeper themes of mortality, free will, and what it means to be human. In addition, it has a heartfelt message about challenging the limitations the world puts on you. Life doesn’t have to be something that happens to you – it’s something you can actively participate in and share with others.
Free Guy is a celebration of video games and delves into why we spend time in these artificial realities. There are plenty of cameos, easter eggs, and video game references, and some other fun surprises that are better left unspoiled. It’s a cosmic gumbo of other “life is a simulation” movies like The LEGO movie, Wreck-It Ralph, Ready Player One, Dark City, and The Truman Show. There’s even an homage to John Carpenter’s They Live in a scene where Guy tries to force his friend Buddy to put on a magical pair of sunglasses to see how things really are.
Overall, I found Free Guy to be a positively delightful experience. While it has many elements that some may find very “familiar,” the writing is solid, the performances are engaging and sincere, the action sequences are impressive, and the cinematography by George Richmond (of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Tomb Raider, and Rocketman) completely captures the style and gameplay of the games it’s emulating. I’d highly recommend checking it out!