Free Guy (2021): Grand Theft Awesome
“Free Guy” is directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel) and stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Proposal), Jodie Comer (Killing Eve, The White Princess), Lil Rel Howrey (Uncle Drew, The Carmichael Show), Utkarsh Ambudkar (The Mindy Project, The Muppets), Joe Keery (Stranger Things, Chicago Fire), and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit). This film is primarily set in Free City, a massive sandbox video game where players can control characters through a massive city and go on missions. Guy, an NPC (non-playable character), discovers the secrets of the game and breaks the rules of his own character. While he is typically a bank teller who often finds himself in the middle of a robbery, he gets bored of doing the same thing over and over again and decides to level up his life while also trying to win the girl of his dreams.
I love Ryan Reynolds. The word “movie star” does not have as big of an impact as it may have years ago with faces including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Will Smith dominating the big screen with their blockbuster titles. There are a few big “movie stars” that have risen to astronomical heights over the years including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and others who have maintained their fame for years including Tom Cruise. When it comes to the conversation of which actor is currently the biggest star in the world, Ryan Reynolds has to be in the conversation every single time. He is one of Canada’s finest exports and adds a flair to every movie he’s in. This even includes ones I don’t like such as “The Croods” or “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”
The concept of “Free Guy” by itself, where a video game NPC increasingly gains a sense of consciousness and humanity, is already one that could be considered a recipe for greatness. But if you put Ryan Reynolds into the picture, you’ve taken a great movie and bumped up its power by five times. This is a film that had a bumpy road in terms of its marketing. In fact I think the best trailer we got of the film was in 2019 when it made fun of Disney for putting out its animated titles in live-action form. I thought it was genius because it sounded like humor that would associate with Ryan Reynolds, especially considering how he has dominated the meta humor concept with a film like “Deadpool” and its sequel. The trailers after weren’t bad, but they did not live up to the original for me. Although there was a great piece of marketing that had Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool sitting next to Korg (Taika Waititi) doing what could only be a parody of a YouTube trailer reaction video. I was excited for this film despite the mixed road to get to the official release. And I say that even without acknowledging the ongoing pandemic, not that it should be forgotten.
What did I think of “Free Guy?”
Simply put, I had a lot of fun with “Free Guy.” When it comes to movies set in a video game universe, I think “Ready Player One,” which “Free Guy” reminded me of at times and is coincidentally also written by Zak Penn, is a slightly better film. But “Free Guy” takes a cool concept and gives it a smooth execution in the end. And I should not be surprised that this film is as good as it is. Because director Shawn Levy, whose recent projects include Paramount’s “Arrival” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” is a master at creating a film for everyone. One of my favorite films from my childhood is “Night at the Museum.” It is a film that does not exactly feel like it is being targeted at kids, but when it comes to both titles, many children could watch the film, understand much of what is going on, and appreciate everything in front of them. At the same time, adults could watch this film and have a great time with it. The first two films in that particular franchise have been a cornerstone of movie nights in my family. To see Levy do a movie like this does not surprise me, and if anything else, it pleases me.
For starters, it is an original idea, which in terms of blockbusters, feel very few and far between. In fact, this is technically the first Disney original live action film in years (technically because 20th Century Fox made it). I just love seeing creative, never before seen ideas come to life and “Free Guy” is a fine example of that.
Also, if the last couple decades have proven anything, people love video games, including me. Much of my childhood has been spent pushing the buttons on my Nintendo devices, so the idea of this film has a special place in my heart. I find it fascinating that this movie chooses to focus on someone who could be anyone and have them evolve. We look nowadays at video game NPCs as tools to let the player do their thing. But to have what is technically a tool sprout into something more is flat out fascinating. Yeah, it kind of feels like that cliche idea that “anyone’s special,” which as Dash from “The Incredibles,” would suggest, “which is another way of saying no one is.” It’s a cliche idea, but it is brought to life through something incredibly creative in addition to Ryan Reynolds’s terrific encapsulation of Guy.
One thing I’ve always noticed while I play a video game is that when you go by NPCs, they’ll often spew the same things out of their mouth over and over. A big part of that is because they’re portrayed by a certain actor, and actors will record a limited number of lines for a certain character, therefore they can only do so much. Therefore, NPCs are usually one-dimensional, do not have much personality, and are often in the background. In the case of Guy, I think Ryan Reynolds did a good job at making the character not feel flat or putting him in a sphere that makes his personality limited. In fact, Reynolds brings a sense of hyperactivity to his character despite him having a life that most would consider boring. Guy is a banker who drinks the same cup of coffee every day and says good morning to his goldfish by his bedside. This is an everyday routine for him, but he seems to accept it because he’s programmed that way.
Now I like Taika Waititi, but I think “Free Guy” has only increased the chances of me wanting to get together with the dude for lunch. You know how a lot of films directed towards young audiences will have an over the top villain? Taika Waititi’s character of Antwan almost seems to find himself within the confines of that description. Not that this movie is specifically for children, but nevertheless. In a lot of cases, this could be a turnoff because then the film could become a live-action cartoon, but not in “Free Guy!” If anything, Waititi’s performance is an utter enhancement in this film. The mixture of his lines and hyped up antics arguably makes him the best character of the movie. It kind of reminds me of another film Shawn Levy directed, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” because that film’s villain was Kahmunrah, and he was perhaps written and presented in such a way that could arguably make him cartoony, but it was presented in such a way where Levy and actor Hank Azaria seemed to embrace the silly that the script listed. As far as “Free Guy” is concerned, Taika Waititi plays a guy who might as well be jacked up on Red Bull all the time and does not seem to care much about others. As far as I’m concerned, I love the execution of this character, and I almost wonder if part of why it worked so well was because of the casting. I cannot imagine anyone other than Waititi playing Antwan at this point.
Without spoilers, the climax of “Free Guy” is a thing of beauty. The film just goes straight into becoming “Garry’s Mod” of all things. There’s some stuff in this climax that I had almost zero warning about going into it, and I think if you want to have the same reaction, do everything you can to avoid any online discussion about the end of the film. It is in a word, “epic.”
If I had any problems with “Free Guy” it would be that the film does get into some impractical nonsense by the end that comes off more or less as a plot convenience more than anything else. It is not a humungous turnoff as the rest of the film is nicely structured but there’s one moment towards the end that feels jumbled in terms of execution, and it’s a pretty important one. Maybe in the script, it sounds more coherent, but in the final product, it sounds kind of… pun intended, pixelated. It’s kind of sad considering the impact the moment was trying to deliver, but for some reason, they could not stick the landing.
This one moment does not take much away from the literal joy I achieved from watching “Free Guy.” “Free Guy” is a crazy, fun adventure. I love the setting, I love the idea, I love how it seems to have fun with our modern video game culture and how much of a cash cow it has become in addition to being heavy entertainment. I left this movie wanting more. I want to see more of Guy, Molotov Girl, Buddy, all the characters in this film were utter delights. I legit think that this is a movie that anyone could watch and enjoy. I sometimes go to see movies with my mom, and most of the movies I see with her are ones that usually are not action heavy or horror heavy. Despite the action heaviness of “Free Guy,” I legit think that this is a movie that my mother could put on and have a ball with despite some things being there that she may not usually tend to see on screen. If you like action, you’ll definitely like this movie, but the crew behind “Free Guy,” whether they intended to or not, did a really good job at creating something that a lot of people could find themselves attached to, even if it wasn’t specifically made for them. In that sort of way, I highly recommend “Free Guy” to anyone reading this and their friends.
In the end, “Free Guy” may solidify Ryan Reynolds as one of the finest Canadians to ever live and the film itself is easily one of my favorites of the year. Disney did not release this film on streaming. Granted, I do not know if they could have contractually, 20th Century Fox movies still go straight to HBO months after release. But from everything I’ve read, Disney practically had all the faith in the world given towards this movie. Based on what has been created, “Free Guy” has massive franchise potential. Heck, I could see this thing becoming a Disney ride at some point. The film is immersive, fun, bonkers, and just a straight up good time. “Free Guy” by the way is set in two different places. The real world and the game of “Free City.” to my surprise, the stuff that happens in the real world has the same level of intrigue as everything that happens in the world of “Free City.” To have the escape be as interesting as the world from which people are trying to escape is definitely pleasing. I’m going to give “Free Guy” an 8/10.
Also, if you need another reason to see this movie, you’ll get to see Alex Trebek one last time. Seeing him on screen brought a smile to my face and I am sure it will for many other viewers as well.
“Free Guy” is now playing exclusively in theaters and IMAX. Get your tickets now!
Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that on Monday, August 23rd, I will be sharing my thoughts on “Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.” The film is not as often talked about as the original, partially because it was made for television. But I am here to talk about it as we dive deeper into my ongoing review series, “Revenge of the Nerds: Nerds in Review” as we celebrate Scene Before’s fifth anniversary. And speaking of reviews, be sure to stay tuned for my review of “Don’t Breathe 2.” I just saw the film last night and I intend to talk about it soon. If you want to read all this and more on Scene Before, be sure to follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Free Guy?” What did you think about it? Or, if you could put yourself in the universe of any video game, which one would it be? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!