Movies venturing into video games have a bumpy track record. Some make fun of the concept of gaming and gamers and others provide an experience that makes the hobby accessible to others while also taking the time to work in some deep cuts that gaming audiences will get. Then there is Free Guy, a film that uses gaming not as something set apart from the mainstream or niche but as a vital part of it, and of course, as the industry that it is.
Directed by Shawn Levy and a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Taika Waititi– and it’s packed, and I mean packed with cameos from stars, content creators, and gaming properties alike. Reynolds plays Guy, a bank teller who is happy with life and thinking about the girl of his dreams. After routine day after routine day a lá The Lego Movie, Guy discovers he is actually an NPC (non-playable character) in an MMORPG. When he gets sunglasses, the things that make someone a hero in Free City, Guy decides to become the hero of his own story and begins to push the limits of the game by fighting bad guys and becoming the viral “Blue Shirt Guy” while trying to find love.
While Guy’s story is a large part of the story, Free Guy also showcases a bit of the real world with a AAA studio acquiring the rights to an indie game and effectively stealing their work. This runs analogous to Guy’s story and weaves together excellently, even if the actors outside the world of the video game aren’t as charismatic as Reynold’s Guy – Waititi’s Antwan notwithstanding.
In truth, Free Guy works because it uses video games the way they exist now, woven into every part of our life and played by every age group. While there are moments that will speak to older gamers, the film uses the current generation of gamers as the foundation of its story, using elements from the most popular elements of gaming in the mainstream right now. This movie isn’t about all the deep cuts or nostalgia and certainly will make people who relentlessly make fun of Fortnite roll their eyes. That said, the way the film uses game mechanics and physics, the color scheme, and even the way it pushes the audience to think about how we interact with NPCs are touches that can be appreciated by gamers without alienating general audiences.
The video game elements of Free Guy of course shine in the action sequences. With stellar set pieces that work from concept to execution and moments that work as phenomenally integrated shoutouts, I can’t praise the film enough. It embraces the absurdity of in-game worlds, the outfit choices players make and even nods to the awful chats that happen too. And yet with all of that humor, the film never once laughs at gaming, but with it. And to top it all off, Guy is just adorable. He’s the sweet bb boi you have to protect and competes for gaming best boi. Guy is the charming heart of the film and he makes it an adorable f**king good time.
There is a joy in Free Guy that had me smiling ear to ear, had me laughing until it hurt, and kept me engaged from start to finish. Sure some of the real-world elements of the film lag, but Waititi’s chaotic performance makes up for those small moments. He’s hilarious, everywhere, nonsensical, and just the right amount of callous capitalist to make him a villain.
Truly, Free Guy just works for me. It’s joyful, it’s fun, and it reminds me exactly how great video game movies can be when made by people who love them. In fact, it gave me the same emotion I got when watching Wreck-It-Ralph when it first came out. There is a love in this film that, while it’s a little formulaic on-screen, the love of gaming from behind the camera shines through. Not to mention, Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi serving as polar opposite ends of the film, balancing against each other works so well.
Overall, Free Guy isn’t perfect but it is just pure joy. It has enough jokes that embrace gaming stereotypes and more that subvert them. It laughs with gaming, not at it, and ultimately does a phenomenal job of bringing where gaming is today to the forefront. Sure, it’s a pretty messy film that throws everything and more at the audience, but just to reiterate: it’s an adorable f**king good time.
Free Guy is in theaters August 13, 2021.
- Rating - 8/108/10
Free Guy isn’t perfect but it is just pure joy. It has enough jokes that embrace gaming stereotypes and more that subvert them. It laughs with gaming, not at it, and ultimately does a phenomenal job of bringing where gaming is today to the forefront. Sure, it’s a pretty messy film that throws everything and more at the audience, but just to reiterate: it’s an adorable f**king good time.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.