Best video game movie ever? That’s admittedly not a high bar to clear but Free Guy ought to be in contention. Read on for my thoughts…
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is your average citizen of Free City. He wakes up every day, says “hi” to his goldfish, gets the same coffee order, goes to his mundane job at the bank… and endures constant threats to his personal safety. Violence is a way of life in Free City. And most of it is perpetrated by the mysterious “sunglasses people”– a group of citizens who get away with all sorts of atrocities.
Terrible as life seems, Guy and friends go about their daily routine with smiles, upbeat attitudes, and general nonchalance about the mayhem around them. They have no choice. It’s in their programming… See– Guy is actually an NPC (non-playable character) in a video game! But when a series of circumstances leads him to don a sunglasses person’s shades, he finally sees Free City through their eyes. And his world will never be the same. Game on.
Hollywood can shock me on occasion! Here we have an idea which is not only fun and has decent production values, but is ALSO an original concept. Imagine that. Free Guy’s marketing didn’t sell the movie for me but it got me curious. And because I’m somewhat of a film activist (who puts dollars into what I wanna see more of), I couldn’t resist.
Far as I’m concerned, my money was well spent on this one. Free Guy was a great movie-theatre experience– the kind I don’t see much anymore. Is the plot perfectly tight? No. But that’s OK. The movie’s pure fun in a way movie-goers don’t see enough of in 2021 (and not just cause we’ve all been in lockdown for so long).
Most entertainment nowadays tries to prove its worth by being negative, doom and gloom. “Look at me!” they say, “I’m so gritty and grounded. And I’m not telling you anything important or groundbreaking, but I look like art and you’d better take me seriously!” They have intriguing messages but they usually deliver some cynical narrative about the state of the world by showing off how dire things are. Like we don’t all know that by now…
Free Guy proves popular entertainment can still sell positivity. And, frankly, we all need some of that right now. The movie taps into the escapist spirit of video-games to deliver an absorbing world that’s enjoyable to explore and become a part of for a time.
I love the vibe of Free City! It seems pretty idyllic besides the constant potential for death or robbery or other catastrophic events. And it feels like a familiar setting for gamers. Free City doesn’t strike me as a parody of any specific game but it takes overt inspiration from popular online worlds like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto.
People who play video games will appreciate the accuracy of this world: the lingo characters use; the grind to level up and gain more power; the use of microtransactions and other scummy corporate edicts; the incorporation of special items based on famous movies, etc. Almost everything about the gaming experience is included in here and it’s super relatable. They even got popular streamers for cameos who occasionally pop into the movie to comment on plot developments in Free City.
They’re only the tip of the iceburg though. Free Guy features tonnes of cameos! One of them was from someone who passed away, which was weird, but I liked it… Many of the celebrity appearances were hilarious. Two in particular (which I won’t spoil) gave me way bigger laughs than I expected.
NOTE: Don’t worry if you’re not into video-games. Some references will go over your head, and you might not appreciate some of the movie’s charms, but I don’t think you’ll be lost. The film is easy enough to understand. It just helps if you’ve picked up a game at any point in your life.
I’ve talked a lot about how the movie feels but not a tonne about the actual plot or characters yet, so let’s pivot in that direction: Ryan Reynolds delivers his… Ryan Reynolds performance. You know what you’re getting from him at this point. His shtick continues to be very charming for me. And it especially works for the character of Guy. His positivity is infectious! It’s not often enough we get main characters/ heroes who are unabashedly good people. Guy doesn’t want to hurt anybody, and his relatively non-violent brand of heroism is legitimately inspiring to me. All these superhero movies exist, yet many of them seem to forget that heroes (at least the kind I grew up with) go out of their way to not seriously hurt people.
Jodie Comer had to do a lot in this movie. Her character (Millie) is the bridge between the video game world and the “real” world. She essentially plays two different versions of the same character. ‘Cause don’t we all act a little differently online? In this film she effectively balances heart, comedy, drama, and action– something rarer than it ought to be. Far as I’m concerned, Ms Comer is the MVP of Free Guy.
But how does she get on with Mr Reynolds? Short answer: real good. Guy’s relationship with Millie is the heart of this movie! It’s pretty endearing. And it might have fallen flat with other actors but thankfully Reynolds and Comer have great chemistry! Their scenes together were consistently engaging, whether they were tag-teaming in action sequences or taking a leisurely stroll in the park.
Joe Keery as Keys was pretty good. I enjoyed his performance but don’t have much to say about him.
I enjoyed that Guy’s best friend (Buddy– played by Lil Rel Howery) supported Guy’s life choices while also questioning his motivations. His decision not to actively partake in Guy’s adventure makes Buddy feel more like an individual than a simple sidekick. Most movies would have had him abandon his whole way of life immediately. So I respect the choice to go in a different, more realistic direction;
Taika Waititi’s character (Antoine) doesn’t show up till about halfway through the story, yet he’s a memorable addition to the film. I was convinced from Free Guy’s trailers that he was gonna be too much for me but most of his jokes actually landed. Mentally prepare yourself though, because Mr Waititi’s performance is over-the-top and won’t be to everyone’s taste.
My general thoughts on character: everyone’s motivations made sense and the plot weaved their conflicts together well. Their conflicts with each other were earned and satisfying to see play out. And there were some solid character arcs!
I’d talk more about the “real world” plot but the trailers didn’t aren’t too specific about it, and I had to go in blind, so I’m making you go in that way too. There’s not much about those scenes which you’d be angry at me for spoiling, and its kinda predictable in some ways, but I still liked seeing the real world story play out. A big compliment I’ll offer is that you probably won’t resent the film for leaving the video game world so much. We don’t have an Assassin’s Creed situation here where the animus is night-and-day more interesting than the modern-day story. Free City is still where the best parts of the movie happen but they’re not the only worth-while bits.
Moving ahead to the spectacle sequences (which– for those of you who care about this stuff more than me– I’m sorry to have included so far into this thing): I was surprised by how much the action and special effects impressed me! I’ve been down on action films and shows lately because they’re not giving me the thrills they used to. But Free Guy was well-done! The sequences were clear, kinetic, and original.
My one real complaint with the movie was its pacing– specifically in the final act. Most of Free Guy moves along nicely until 3/4 through when things sorta grind to a halt. It seems like multiple plot beats were added just to increase the run time and add extra tension. But for the amount of substance these beats added to the final cut, the sequence felt tacked on. Without spoiling anything– something important happens, and then it almost immediately gets reversed without much consequence. And then the movie continues.
Free Guy offers a scathing satire of the modern video game industry, yet in a way which appeals to non-gamers too. It had some great messages like: there’s too much potential for our lives to settle for mediocrity, our (cultural) programming doesn’t have to define our life, artistic expression is more valuable than soulless entertainment, and true love/ passion for someone/ something is a fantastic motivator for inspiring yourself and others (creatively and in life). These themes resonated with me as someone tired of all the negative content out there.
Funny, heartfelt and generally entertaining, Free Guy is Pretty Darn Good.
What’s the best video game movie ever made (either before Free Guy, or including FG once you’ve seen it)? What did you think of Free Guy? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,
REVIEW METRIC: Don’t bother; If you’re bored; Worth a watch; Pretty darn good; Must see; Watch it A.S.A.P.