REVIEW: Free Guy (2021)

Jodie Comer as Molotov Girl and Ryan Reynolds as Guy in FREE GUY — Photo: Alan Markfield / 20th Century Studios.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) — Screenplay by Matt Lieberman & Zak Penn.

It feels like I have been waiting for Free Guy for so long, and, in a way, I have. The first trailer was released back in 2019, then its theatrical release was delayed again and again due to the COVID-19 pandemic until it was finally released in the summer of 2021. And now it has finally been released on Disney+ in select regions. I actually always enjoyed the trailers, but, I must admit that, a small part of me was trepidatious about the film because I worried that I would have the same problems with Free Guy that I had with Ready Player One. But even though Free Guy does have plenty of references, I never thought it was as overwhelming as I thought the aforementioned modern Spielberg dystopian action film was. I quite enjoyed this movie, warts and all.

Shawn Levy’s Free Guy primarily follows Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds), a bank teller and non-playable character inside of an online video game world, as he slowly learns that his world isn’t real. He is taken on this journey after he becomes smitten by the player known as MolotovGirl (played by Jodie Comer), who is on her own mission inside of the game. MolotovGirl, whose real name is Millie, is looking for data inside of the video game which may prove that the game’s developer has stolen, distorted, and repurposed her original video game idea. As the video game developer, Antwan (played by Taika Waititi), slowly starts to realize exactly what is going on, Guy will have to fight for his own existence.

Free Guy is an interesting kind of film. While it is a film about a video game world where players can use gadgets and whatnot from various famous video games or other properties, the film is, at its heart, about an independent video game designer that is fighting against a giant corporation, which has swallowed her original idea. I love the intent of the story. I think it is nice to see stories about underdogs that are going up against conglomerates, and I like how a lot of this story is executed (which surprised me a little, since the marketing mostly focused on Ryan Reynolds’ character). But I also think this is a case where the central message got muddled by the sudden use of pop culture reference in the last act of the film. There certainly is a lot of reference humor — and ‘cheap’ excitement as a result of borrowing other films’ gadgets and theme music — but not all of it is earned and, I guess that, some of the reference humor will eventually make the comedy feel quite dated.

On top of that, I know that one of the easiest criticisms to lob at this film is that it is unoriginal. It is, at least to some extent. It is borrowing a lot, conceptually, from The Matrix or The Truman Show (or even The LEGO Movie), and I think it would be silly to try to argue against that (the video game references are exactly as obvious). But I have to say that I like the concepts in this film, and, while there certainly are visual references to other films, I didn’t feel bombarded with the kind of visual reference noise that Ready Player One (which I thought cheapened one of my favorite films) overwhelmed me with. Free Guy never made me feel that kind of numbness. In fact, I was often quite charmed by this movie. It is just a funny and lightweight action comedy when the film rests on Ryan Reynolds’ capable comedic chops, and it is almost as good when it deals with the real world subplot, which I thought was a nice surprise. I will say, though, that it is a shame that Taika Waititi, who delivers a slightly grating performance, is in a completely different movie than Reynolds, Comer, and Joe Keery.

Shawn Levy’s Free Guy is very unoriginal, its inspirations are extremely obvious, and even though the story is essentially in favor of independent art, the filmmakers couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick and choose gadgets from some of the most celebrated IPs and sequels in films and video games, which means the film is a little bit at odds with itself. But, honestly, the film still won me over thanks in large part to the story, the tone, and the fact that Ryan Reynolds, who I always greatly enjoy, is used perfectly without ever overwhelming the subplot that puts the (though not unknown) not-so-household-names into the spotlight. I think this is a charming and rather inoffensive comedy that the entire family can enjoy.

7.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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