I walked into "Free Guy" with a shameless expectation that I was going to see Deadpool in cyberspace, as I've grown used to seeing these big names pick up their popular characters and just transfer them across separate plotlines. That being said, I deserve to eat these words, because it felt amazing to walk out surprised and entertained for the next best video game movie.
Most of the movie's fun takes place in Free City, the open world GTA-style game where everyday life is mimicked for the average gamer to load in, nag a cool skin, and go to town on whatever they want to do. Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is the bank teller NPC taking new control over his life, and Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) is Guy's best friend and security at the bank. While they are primary characters in the virtual space, it's real characters that propel the story at a start.
The premise of Free Guy involves an original build of the Free City game created in the real world by Millie (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery). Enter tyrant gaming boss Antoine (Taika Waititi) benefiting off of the fanbase Millie and Keys generated and pushing a game-altering update that threatens the progress of Guy's self-awareness and the secret to coding reality. He's the big bad to stop.
Jodie Comer is a familiar face for those who watched her faceoff Sandra Oh's Eve in Killing Eve. Comer's portrayal of Villanelle earned her an Emmy Award in 2019 for Outstanding Lead. Clearly, as a fan of Comer, seeing her two portrayals in Free City as Millie, and her online persona MolotovGirl reinstated the fact that she's an actor geared for versatility! Matching her in all but strength and smarts is Guy, played by everyone's favorite social media husband Ryan Reynolds. Although he's defined particular characters with his performances and even improved them, here you get a break from the usual Reynolds and get to meet the naive and hilarious Guy, so hesitant to grasp his completely simulated world. The cast shines in this film, and not one performance sticks out over others. As the antagonist, Taika Waititi plays Antoine the corrupt king of his empire, the big boss at the company that runs Free City. While prepping for the next game update, which brings major alterations to the original code, viewers will see the outbursts and exclamations that give Waititi freedom to fly with his performance. He's evil for sure, a little manic, and so much fun to watch.
Video game adaptations have a track record of falling flat time and again. It seems the gamer in audiences has to bite their tongue when their cherished material is butchered on screen for 90 minutes, and I agree it hurts. This is no game-to-film adaptation, but it does take place in a video game world. Thankfully, what we jump into as audiences is a new world and our eyes are guided by the hilarious Reynolds as he plays awakened NPC Guy, surprised both by his invulnerability and curiosity of the world around him. When he meets MolotovGirl there's an aha moment that sparks his new perspective and watching that develop often included the wacky in-game actions and moves that you'd see in GTA, Fortnite, or other shooters. Luxury cars racing downtown are chased by fighter jets, hands reaching behind our backs reveal materialized RPGs, a level counter is displayed above heads, a walk in the city includes simultaneous crimes taking place all around, multiple background players being struck down in the chaos.
"Free Guy" has drop-in, drop-out features too, cutting to well-known streamer cameos as Guy commands a global spotlight with his adventure. Gaming and streamer fans will appreciate the addition, and even more, fun is packed into the third act when real impactful callbacks are made. We get peak moments of some cross-franchise entertainment at the end, which immediately begs the question of the timing! Had these tricks been revealed sooner I think the payoff would have been tenfold more amusing and exciting, but as they stand they're worthwhile.
On another note, gaming culture is given a bad rep due to being riddled with trolls and outright disrespectful, uncomfortable voices applying themselves to whatever lobby has an open mic channel. While sometimes avoidable, it's the culture we'd like to reduce and shut down as much as we can. In the movie, there are jokes or allusions to this fact, and they did not land. The comedy is second-hand when we're feeling involved in the world and the goofy nature that keeps it moving, but when we stop and have a moment of focus around groins touching or a special sock joke, it's more cringe than comedy. Save for these awkward moments, and a weird romantic element that I didn't see coming, I didn't lose focus in the fun for much to disturb my experience which involved so many laughs! I would recommend it to gaming readers, and kids at heart. It's quite the fantasy, and you'll see why.
"Free Guy" is in theaters on August 13. I'd love to hear your thoughts and connect on Twitter! You can follow me @JSYKnowa.