Game adaptations and video game-themed movies are always a risky venture – for every Wreck it Ralph or Pokémon Detective Pikachu, there’s a Pixels or Monster Hunter lurking in the background. Following release date shuffles and even being pulled from the upcoming release schedule, there were many question marks surrounding the next gaming outing starring Ryan Reynolds. However, 20th Century Studios released a brilliantly meta video on social media, titled Deadpool and Korg React, confirming the release date and perfectly setting the tone for the action-comedy.
Directed by Shawn Levy, Free Guy centres on the ever optimistic Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a hapless everyman who follows the same monotonous routine day in, day out. That’s until he meets Molotov Girl/programmer Miller (Jodie Comer) and discovers that he’s a non-playable character (NPC) in the chaotic open world video game, Free City. Guy faces a race against time to level up and save his city in his own unique way, before company overlord Antoine (Taika Waititi) pulls the plug on the servers, making the choice to become the hero of his own story.
There’s surprisingly more than meets the eye to the latest Ryan Reynolds action-comedy, as Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn’s screenplay brings an earnest nature to the breezy but bonkers quest. On the surface, Free Guy‘s frenetic and fast-paced narrative is packed with wall-to-wall action, however at it’s heart, it’s an unexpectedly sweet romance which adds a refreshing aspect to the video game genre. Yes, the background elements can feel like sensory overload at times, with Levy overly capitalising on pop culture IPs and gaming references targeting younger demographics. But despite this, the heartfelt moments, Guy’s good heartedness and the surprising Truman Show style commentary on the trappings of modern life really do win you over.
Reynolds brings his usual brand of charismatic, wise-cracking comedy to the role, while steering away from the biting sarcasm of Deadpool for a more kindhearted naivety. His generic everyday guy shtick isn’t hugely believable though, particularly as he seems to feel much more at home in the action-packed sequences alongside Killing Eve‘s charismatic Jodie Comer. The pair excel in these scenes, using a vast amount of weapons and vehicles as they take out the game’s henchmen. Taika Waititi dials his performance up to 11 for an over-the-top take on a bratty tech founder, riffing on the perceived toxicity around silicon valley’s start-up culture. While Stranger Thing‘s Joe Keery adds a real like-ability to the typically sweet but nerdy programmer role.
As expected, the Grand Theft Auto inspired open world is packed full of explosive car chases, bank robberies and larger gaming references. While Wreck it Ralph and Ready Player One used numerous nostalgia fuelled references, the many dances, weapons, vehicles and streaming personalities used in Free Guy are definitely aimed at a much younger audience. However, there are also a few excellent cameos which the whole family will certainly enjoy! Levy cleverly switches between the live-action and game worlds using visual cues such as sunglasses interfaces and an overly VFX heavy environment, in an immersive Ready Player One style realm. While the visual effects in Free City are at times a little ropey, it’s easy to dismiss this as the action is set in an overtly gamified setting. There’s also an intriguing and surprisingly refreshing commentary on the evolution of artificial intelligence in technology, veering away from the stereotypical representations in movies like Terminator and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Free Guy is a hugely entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt game-inspired action blockbuster, with a fun turn from Reynolds and Comer, excelling on her big blockbuster debut.