Over the years, Hollywood has notoriously struggled with video game movies; adaptations of popular IP have failed to connect with critics and casual moviegoers, and at the box office – with some exceptions. Free Guy is a different kind of video game movie. Rather than adapt a real game, Matt Lieberman (Scoob!, The Christmas Chronicles) and Zak Penn’s (Ready Player One) script follows a non-player character – NPC – in a fictional open-world shooter called Free City. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) then brings the world of Free City to life as a surreal version of our reality, but one with no less humanity. Free Guy is uproariously fun, delightfully charming, and unexpectedly sweet, with Ryan Reynolds perfectly in his element balancing action and comedy.
In the world of Free City, Free Guy follows the NPC named Guy (Reynolds), who works at a bank with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). But everything changes for him when he sees the player character of Millie (Jodie Comer) and he breaks from his programmed loop, acquiring a pair of sunglasses that distinguish the players from the NPCs. When Millie explains that Guy needs to level up, which players can accomplish by doing bad things, Guy goes his own route, leveling up by being the good guy. Outside of the game, Guy becomes a viral phenomenon, and Millie realizes he might be able to help in her lawsuit against Free City’s publisher, Soonami, and its owner Antwan (Taika Waititi). She believes Antwan stole the game she developed with her best friend Keys (Joe Keery) who, instead of helping her, is content to work at Soonami with his friend Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar). As a result, Millie enlists the help of Guy to help prove her case and save Free City before Antwan can destroy the evidence.
Instead of adapting one particular video game, Free Guy tells a new, original story that happens to be entrenched in the world of video games. This means Lieberman and Penn’s script was unburdened by the limitations of an established property and they could tell whatever story they wanted. Perhaps surprisingly, they chose to tell a story about love and free will, which weaves seamlessly with the video game world of Free Guy. While the Free City game and the way Levy presents its mechanic’s border on fantastical, it’s the story at the heart of Free Guy that keeps it grounded, as its characters wrestle with very human struggles about the meaning of life and love. The movie strikes the perfect balance between lighthearted, fun action-comedy, and more serious, real moments of growth and learning to make Free Guy a well-rounded and entertaining experience.
At the heart of that experience is Reynolds, who plays Guy with a combination of charisma and the wide-eyed, bordering-on-naive, optimism the actor excels at. Reynolds has demonstrated a skill for balancing action and humor in his past roles (Deadpool, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, 6 Underground – just to name a few), though many of those characters can end up feeling like carbon copies of each other. Guy has a little bit of that, but it works within the movie as Reynolds’ natural charm pairs well with the script and character. It further helps that Reynolds is surrounded by a stellar cast that includes Comer as the determined Millie, and Waititi as the deliciously villainous Antwan. Comer is a phenomenal actress and she puts those skills to use by giving Millie and her game character plenty of depth, while Waititi is a delight to watch on screen as the eccentric game mogul – he’s the kind of villain viewers love to hate. They’re bolstered by the supporting cast of Keery, Ambudkar, and Howery, all of whom play their roles with equal parts comedy and warmth. The entire cast comes together to bring depth, heart, and humor to Free Guy.
Where Free Guy stumbles just a bit is when it tries to depict the larger world and Guy’s impact outside of Free City and Soonami, which the movie does by showing popular gaming streamers and various unknown people commenting or watching the situation. Though these segments are meant to come across as genuine, all of these reactions feel unbearably scripted and do more to take viewers out of the movie than entrench them further in the world of Free Guy. From a story standpoint, they’re necessary to set up the climactic third act, but the inclusion of the streamers especially feels more like gaming fan-service and is somewhat clunky as a result. Conversely, Free Guy includes a number of cameos from Hollywood stars that range from nearly undetectable to absolutely shocking (in the best way) and these are far more fun. Still, while some of the video game culture elements of Free Guy aren’t perfectly seamless, especially to those outside the real-life community, the movie does depict the industry in an authentic-feeling light – even showing a slice of the darkness within.
Ultimately, though Free Guy is the most creative, heartfelt, and perhaps best video game movie so dar, the film is fresh and original enough that anyone can enjoy it. Viewers don’t need to have any deep knowledge of video games or the community to enjoy the story Levy, Lieberman, Penn, and Reynolds are telling because it’s universal and speaks to themes at the heart of humanity. As such, Free Guy is worth a watch for anyone interested in the premise, which the movie makes smart use of, or those looking for a fun action-comedy for some summer popcorn viewing. With its clever storytelling, sincere heart, wildly fun humor, and thrilling action, Free Guy have everything viewers could want in a great summer blockbuster.