Free Guy (2021)
20th Century Studios
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Taika Waititi
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Guy Freeman, played by actor Ryan Reynolds, is the main character of the 20th Century Studios film Free Guy and a major player in this review. If I had to sum up Guy’s life in a word, it would be routine. Now, don’t get me wrong there isn’t anything wrong with that, but Guy’s life is downright repetitive. Still, he doesn’t complain and actually finds contentment in his routine. He wakes up each day and chooses one of his outfits from his closet (although there isn’t much choice involved since they are all the same). Then, he orders himself a coffee and heads off to his bank teller job. He settles in to begin working at which point the bank is robbed. Now, that may not sound routine to any normal character, but then again, Guy isn’t a normal character. This bank teller is a new breed.
What’s the Catch?
We discover that Guy, his home, and even the bank he works at are all a part of Free City. And the bank robbery that takes place each day isn’t real. It’s just a mission for the enjoyment of the players at home. Free City is nestled in an open-world video game ruled by player anarchy. And while he is the main character in the film, in Free City, Guy is simply an NPC (Non-Player Character). An NPC is a character the player interacts with as they go about their missions. They may help the player along with information or give them objectives but typically they aren’t the focus of the story. However, after witnessing Guy’s adventure, I doubt any video game player will view NPC’s the same way again.
The soon-to-be self-aware hero’s life begins to change one day when during his “routine” he bumps into Molotov Girl, played by Jodie Comer. Molotov Girl is an actual player in the game. She is an actual person in the real world by the name of Millie. It’s love at first sight for Guy, who determines he will break out of his routine to win her over.
Maximum Effort by these standouts
I feel the actors did a great job in bringing this open-world video game scenario to reality. Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy is, as usual, a likable performer. He imbues Guy with the same energy as his signature Deadpool role, though here he is decidedly less vulgar. I thought that Joe Keery was also charming as Keys, a talented programmer wasting his days as an admin for Free City.
That said, the film’s standout performance goes to Judie Comer as Guy’s love interest, the player Molotov Girl/Millie. As Molotov Girl, she is cool, mysterious, and vexing. But as Millie, she shifts into someone vulnerable and awkward. For a studio action-comedy like Free Guy, Millie is an unusually dynamic character, and this review needed to reflect that.
The film’s strongest element, however, is its screenplay. Zak Penn and Matthew Lieberman juggle three different points of view in this film (Guy’s, Millie’s, and Keys’) and, for the most part, succeed. Despite running at only two hours in length, one never gets the feeling that the film sacrifices one voice for the other. It’s only towards the climax, when the screenplay relies on more bog-standard storytelling, that I found myself losing interest.
If there’s a weak element in the cast, it’s Taika Waititi as the film’s villain, Antwan. Waititi is usually a capable actor, but here relies too strongly on scenery-chewing and mugging for laughs. Towards the end, I would sigh and roll my eyes every time he appeared.
Watching Free Guy, I couldn’t help but be reminded of playing Persona 5. If you have never played it before I invite you to give it a playthrough or two since even I missed some elements during my first go-round. So much care was put into each of the NPC’s stories. Like the young girl and her beloved dog who became terminally ill. As I watched Guy go from NPC to an actual character I thought back to how this NPC moved through the stages of grief.
Are you going to check out Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy?
If there is a message in the film I see it as realizing you may be the main character of your story, but take your time, and you will discover that everyone is a protagonist in their own right. The faceless extras you walk past all have their own lives filled with dreams and pains that you can miss completely.
I feel that Free Guy is a charming, diverting film. While it may not reach the creative heights of films like The LEGO Movie or Wreck-It Ralph, I still found myself entertained. Perhaps, like my second playthrough of Persona 5, another watch at home will help me discover a story that I missed.