I found myself smiling from start to finish.
FREE GUY (2021)
I need to be honest up front. Anytime Ryan Reynolds stars in anything, you can consider me signed up. The man just has that star appeal that is cotton candy for the eyes and ears. I’ve been so eager for this film to come out, and I’ve been waiting a year and a half to finally catch it. I saw one trailer a long time ago for Free Guy and it looked familiar in a safe Ryan Reynolds charmy vehicle type of way. As soon as I saw him smirk in that trailer with explosions and chaos carry on in the background, I knew where this movie was going to take me. Or so I thought. I have since avoided all new trailers and any interviews about Free Guy before my own screening. There’s some things that should be experienced as organically as possible. Ryan Reynolds has earned that privilege.
Since the tone and mood of the film was one of the highlights of the trailer, I had a rough idea of how this film would be handled. Director Shawn Levy balances two worlds in one stroke, the real world and the world of Free City. The latter is where most of the movie takes place and is an outrageous cityscape designed as one might expect. It’s a place built for gamers, by gamers. Shawn Levy understands this world and creates spaces and moments that allow it to flourish. It is best described as a healthy mashup between Ready Player One and Wreck-It-Ralph, and the similarities don’t stop at appearances.
A non-player-character, or NPC, named Guy (Reynolds) goes about his life in a strict routine. He wakes up, gets his coffee, goes to work at the bank, and occasionally gets killed by individuals wearing special glasses. He is not aware of his existence as a background character. One day he sees a woman wearing said glasses who catches his attention, and he cannot understand why. He never truly notices anything else in his life, so why her? In quick fashion, Guy begins questioning his daily rhythm. He becomes curious and self-aware, yearning to find out who this mystery girl is. He soon breaks protocol, disarming a player in the game, alerting the attention of the real world programmers who think Guy is just some hacker disguising himself as an NPC.
The woman he is after is named Molotov Girl, but in the real world she goes by Millie (Jodie Comer). She is combing through the alleys and shadowy corners of Free City looking for proof that the code in the Free City game was indeed stolen from her and her partner. The partner is Joe Kerry who plays the brilliant Keys, a current employee of the Soonami corporation that runs Free City. He is resentful of the company CEO Antoine (a brilliantly cast Taika Waititi) and also believes that his game (and therefore code) he created with his partner Millie was stolen, but cannot find the concrete proof either.
A lot of the movie deals with Millie having to juggle with grooming Guy to get a better handle on the world of Free City once he becomes more sentient, and simultaneously carry out corporate espionage with Keys to gain back what is rightfully theirs. The stakes are raised when the game becomes a target for complete reset, threatening all the progress Guy has made for himself. He is truly the first living example of working, functional AI. The back and forth between the two conflicts was entertaining to say the least. There are a lot of laughs that even caught me off guard.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Ryan Reynolds being Ryan Reynolds is what you get in this movie. But then again, I go to see Ryan Reynolds to be himself anyway, or at least the version of himself he has made his public image. The rest of the cast carries the film confidently, and they get a lot more screen time than I was expecting. Jodie Comer is arguably the true star of Free Guy. She manages to keep a spark going between her Molotov Girl avatar and Guy while simultaneously connecting as Millie in the real world with Keys (Joe Keery). While I did enjoy the back and forth between Millie and Keys, their inevitable end state was telegraphed the first time you see them on screen. Taika Waititi chews the scene into near cartoonish territory as the villain. I strongly believe Waititi harbors the same spell of being universally appreciated that Reynolds uses. Even the background characters, Utkarsh Ambudkar who plays Mouser in the real world and Lil Red Howery who plays Buddy in Free City, have their own growth and arc. This cast is A-plus.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
What can I say about the effects here? They spared no expense. There are so many great set pieces that can only exist in the context of a video game. With a few exceptions, there aren’t too many references or easter eggs that you feel bogged down to hunt for. The creators of Free Guy wanted to make their world their own, not some Frankenstein mash-up of things we’ve already seen. They nailed it.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
There is nothing too flashy or remarkable in the music or sound department that you wouldn’t expect here. Free Guy’s environment is already full of bright colors with complimentary sounds you’d expect to see in a video game movie. Every hit, smash, crash and jab punches hard. The biggest take away from Free Guy’s music is that you might leave the theater with a certain Mariah Carey song playing in your head on loop.
To say that Free Guy is full of surprises, twists and turns would be disingenuous. In all fairness, there are a few small shocks baked into certain scenes that I will not spoil here. I never saw the last trailer for this film, because trailers often leave little to the imagination. So I risk speaking out of turn here, but the marketing did a good job of setting the audience up for one movie, and then showing another. It was refreshing to not have all the horses out of the stable before going into a film. And even though it is terribly predictable, I found myself smiling from start to finish. Free Guy plays it safe but I didn’t mind; sometimes safe is what you want.