Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language & Violence)
Released By: Walt Disney
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/FreeGuyMovie/
Opening Day: 12 August 2021
Synopsis: In the vein of hits such as Wreck-It-Ralph, Free Guy will follow a background character who discovers he lives in a video game and works to prevent the makers of the game from shutting it down with the help of an avatar.
Amidst a summer season of superhero movies, sequels and reboots, ‘Free Guy’ stands out as a delightfully original surprise. Sure, it does contain elements of films from ‘Ready Player One’, ‘Wreck-It-Ralph’ and ‘Tron’, but the sheer wit and ingenuity that is on display makes whatever seems familiar feel fresh all over again.
As its name suggests, the movie is anchored by Guy, or more precisely Ryan Reynolds. Dialing his nice-guy charm all the way up to 11, Reynolds plays the titular happy-go-lucky bank teller, whose routine every single morning is to greet his pet goldfish, change into a blue button-down shirt and khakis, stop by the neighbourhood barista, and deliver a joyous ‘Don't have a good day, have a great day’ to every customer he meets. Oh, and when a rotating cast of armed robbers turn up at the bank, Guy and his security guard Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) simply shrug their shoulders, drop to the ground, and chat about their after-work plans until the raid is over.
Guy’s obliviousness stems from his very existence: he is but a non-player character or NPC in an open-world, first-person shooter game called ‘Free City’. That Guy is so endearing is credit to Reynolds, who perfectly embodies the sweet innocence of his character. Reynolds also nails perfectly Guy’s subsequent awakening, following a serendipitous encounter on the street with the girl of his dreams. That girl is the leather-clad biker chick Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), who is after an artifact within the game which apparently holds the key to what has been kept out of sight of ‘Free City’.
Thinking that those with sunglasses get the girl, Guy snatches a pair off the next bank robber, and after putting them on, is suddenly able to see the world as the players in the game do, what with power-ups, loot and missions. Guy’s fish-out-of-the-water experience is hilarious, especially how it stands in stark contrast to his earlier nonchalance to the anarchy happening around him. Treading a fine line between being self-aware and being cavalier, Reynolds and director Shawn Levy have a hoot conjuring all sorts of mayhem in the background, with skydiving, car chases, bazookas, explosions, shootouts and melees boasting all kinds of weaponry.
We’d say as much that Molotov Girl’s mission has to do with the power-hungry mogul Antwan (Taika Waititi) behind the game’s virtual world, whom a pair of coders Millie (also Comer) and Walter (Joe Keery) accuse of stealing their code and bastardising it into a soulless franchise. That parallel real-world subplot gains prominence in the film’s second half, with the real and virtual worlds intersecting with increasing urgency, meaning and action.
To say more would certainly spoil the fun of discovering it for your own self, given how director Shawn Levy and co-writers Zak Penn and Matt Lieberman have assembled the story as well as the entire construct with a surprising amount of depth. Guy’s journey as well as that of the other NPCs invoke a ‘Truman Show’-style commentary about the nature of existence for AI-based creations, though Levy deliberately keeps the tone light and jaunty. Just as unexpected is how much we end up caring for these virtual characters, not only for Guy to grow into his own person but also for his budding romance with Molotov Girl.
All of this moves by with brisk efficiency under Levy’s confident direction, who injects it with such infectious energy and verve that you cannot help but be fully immersed. Despite switching frequently back and forth between the worlds, Levy navigates his audience deftly through them; in particular, Levy and his production designer Ethan Tobman deserve credit for designing two visually fascinating worlds with their own distinct characteristics. Levy has also packed his movie from start to finish with plenty of in-jokes and pop-culture references, and without spoiling anything, let’s just say we loved the one with a self-deprecating Channing Tatum and that of a certain MCU hero with a red, white and blue shield.
Yet the whole enterprise is held together by none other than Reynolds, who is perfectly cast in this video-game action comedy. Reynolds is both endearingly beguiling and ceaselessly charming as Guy, combining his trademark nice-guy charisma with just the right amount of snark from ‘Deadpool’ to fashion a refreshingly original character. The chemistry between Reynolds and Comer is a joy to behold, and why we care so deeply about how Guy and Molotov Girl will turn out next to each other as they embark on their respective journeys towards self-fulfillment. The supporting cast is equally excellent, including an entertainingly over-the-top Waititi in full megalomaniac mode and Rel Howery as Guy’s BFF at the bank who also eventually comes into his own.
We’ll admit that we did not think much about ‘Free Guy’ before, not least because of its seemingly nondescript title; and yet, we’re exhilarated to have been blown away by the utter delirium of the adventure, one that blends charm, wit, action, romance, emotion and comedy into a genuinely appealing experience filled with unabashed sweetness and goofy enthusiasm. Among all the crowd-pleasing movies we’ve seen this summer, we dare say this is by far the most fun you’ll have in the cinema.
(Funny, delightful and even thrilling, this refreshingly original video-game action comedy is a crowd-pleasing blend of unabashed sweetness and goofy enthusiasm)
Review by Gabriel Chong