MOVIE REVIEW: FREE GUY is the rare video game themed movie that works.


Director Shawn Levy directs this original ensemble romantic comedy that channels Stranger Than Fiction by way of The Lego Movie.

Several years ago, I remember being very impressed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie. Here was a movie based on a licensed toy that not only transcended the animated infomercial vibe of 80’s animated toy fare like He-Man, M.A.S.K., or Transformers but one with real heart and a strong underlying message about the importance of relationships. It was very genuine and wielded the licensed property as a perfect metaphor for the story it wanted to tell about family and how people view toys as they age, not unlike Toy Story. That connection between people and the way they sometimes use toys, games, and diversions like video games to bury their feelings into and how that can come to the surface because of our connection to those properties is also realized in director Shawn Levy’s latest film, Free Guy, which opens this weekend. Free Guy, while not based on a licensed property, leans heavily into the aesthetic of video games and video game films the way that 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World did. Much like Scott Pilgrim, the film’s aesthetic belies the strong performances and satisfying story under its veneer.

Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, a bank teller who lives in the eponymous Free City; an average, run-of-the-mill city whose average day-to-day citizenry blindly accepts that they will be robbed, violated and menaced by the “Sunglass People,” outsiders whose melee levels of mayhem is tolerated by police, security and the news media. That’s largely because the average citizenry of Free City is made up of Non-Playable-Characters or NPCs in a Fortnite meets GTA MMORPG game called Free City, put out by a video game company called Soonami Studios, run by a hipster CEO named Antoine (played by director Taika Waititi). Antoine is a typical scuzzy Silicon Valley tech CEO, with shades of Fisher Steven’s big bad from the 90’s classic, Hackers, down to the trenchcoat. Antoine buys out an indie gaming company that created a video game where the characters learn and develop on their own. In doing so, he shelves the game and fires one of the creators, Millie (Jodie Comer), and hires the other, Keys (Joe Keery), to keep tabs on him. Millie decides to create an avatar, Molotov Girl, in order to explore Free City to uncover evidence that Antoine stole their code to build the success that is Free City out of the structure of their game. But, one day, Guy sees Millie in the game and falls hard for her. So hard that he breaks out of his NPC loop and starts to build experience so he can impress Molotov Girl. In doing so, he gets the attention of the gamers, Soonami, Keys, and Antoine to see what makes this guy so special.

On its face, Free Guy feels very similar to the LEGO Movie, with Guy being somewhat analogous to Emmett, an ordinary guy who becomes special due to outside circumstances and falls for the girl who knows the bigger picture of what is going on with his world and how he can possibly save it. It’s an apt analogy and Free Guy works for a lot of the same reasons that LEGO Movie works. Both have great performances that keep you keyed in, from Reynolds as the naive Guy who becomes a hero to Lil Rey Howery as Buddy, Guy’s considerate security guard buddy, sounding board, and best friend. It’s also very analogous to the 2006 Marc Forster film, Stranger Than Fiction, where a writer’s creation comes to life and questions his creator’s actions in structuring his life. The relationship between Millie and Guy is somewhat similar to this in her worries about how her actions will affect his life, but there is an interesting wrinkle in this as to how her feelings towards Guy develop throughout the film. The film is something of a romantic comedy in this regard and it works with all the trappings of gaming as fun garnish that keeps you invested throughout. Director Shawn Levy is very adept at handling comedic ensemble films, having directed the Steve Martin vehicle Cheaper by the Dozen, as well as Night at the Museum. This film has all the heart of those films and gives each member of the ensemble time to shine. It’s quite something when generic NPC characters are given more life and heart here than most supporting characters in big-budget films.

But in the end, Free Guy lives and dies by Ryan Reynolds’ performance and he delivers with the kind of humor fans have come to expect from his Deadpool films. It’s no secret that Reynolds’ charisma tends to drive his films’ performance and this is no different. Reynolds has great charisma with Lil Rey Howery and Jodie Comer and his scenes with both are some of the best and most memorable in the film. The film has its great share of set pieces and gags that only work with the full commitment of its star and he excels at that throughout. Similarly, Waititi provides an excellent foil for the film with his own deadpan timing and humor. Free Guy is swimming in comedic riches and isn’t afraid to flex that wealth.

Ultimately, Free Guy is one of the funniest films of the year and one of the rare gaming-themed films that works. Its in-film game seems like something that would actually be popular and the performances and storyline of the film are all very engaging and should lead many to experience repeat views. Make sure you check out Free Guy, its hilarious and it really works.