A bank teller discovers that he’s actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game.
One of this year’s surprise smash hits has been ‘Free Guy’, a Ryan Reynolds movie about a video game character who becomes self-aware. It does not look great from the trailers and I originally dismissed it as another throwaway blockbuster, but good reviews and strong word of mouth from friends who had seen it prompted me to check it out, and I’m glad I did. ‘Free Guy’ has a cool concept and delivers on it well, not taking itself too seriously, but also not leaning too much into the silliness, allowing for a movie that is fun and playful, but also one which has a lot of heart.
Ryan Reynolds is Guy, a non-playing character (NPC) in an online open-world video game called ‘Free City’ – think something like ‘Fortnite’ but with a setting and story more akin to ‘Grand Theft Auto’. He lives out every day much as the last as a bank teller (think ‘The Truman Show’ – spotting the influences is half the fun with the movie!), until one day he spots Molotov Girl, the avatar of Millie (Jodie Comer), one of a duo who had came up with the original concept for the game. This takes Guy on a journey to discover he’s just a cog in a machine designed for other people, and for Millie, it may provide a key to proving that Antwan (Taika Waititi), the ‘creator’ of ‘Free City’, stole their ideas and profited from them. The movie jumps between the real world where Millie and ex-partner Keys (Joe Keery) try to figure out ways to prove this, and the virtual world where Guy and Molotov Girl bond and discover deeper secrets of the game. The two environments work alongside each other surprisingly smoothly.
There are a few reasons why ‘Free Guy’ mostly works and I think it begins with its tone – it takes its concept and characters seriously and it’s all the better for it. Secondly, Ryan Reynolds is perfectly cast as Guy, with his easy going charm perfect for someone who is initially a bit dim, but very likeable. On the less positive side, every scene with Taika Waititi is bordering on painful. As the main antagonist he is designed to be over the top, but it feels excessively so and he comes across as irritating more than an actual genuine threat. A shame as I generally like his performances, but I sighed every time he made an appearance here. Like its obvious touchstone ‘Ready Player One’, there are some fun pop culture references and neat cameos, but I think ‘Free Guy’ does well to primarily stand on its own two feet and tell a story that would have worked just as well without them.
If you’re looking for some late summer escapism you could do a hell of a lot worse than ‘Free Guy’, a fun, video game set movie that won me over with its funny script and strong performances from Reynolds and Jodie Comer.
Directed By: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Britne Oldford, Camille Kostek, Matty Cardarople and Channing Tatum