Free Guy (2021) Review

DON’T HAVE A GOOD DAY,

HAVE A GREAT DAY!


 

Over the years, Hollywood has produced and struggled with the idea of translating a popular video game franchise into a lucrative and entertaining cinematic endeavor. From “game to screen”, the translation of this has allude many in feature films and what becomes pantomime parody of some kind by trying to cater to both the causal moviegoer and the gamer fan. The results have always been mixed, with many projects seeing mediocre results; never truly striking “gold” with critics, viewers, and box office numbers alike. Whether it’s from bad directing, a flat presentation, a bland story, terrible scripts handling, poor execution, over-the-top acting, and weak characters, it’s numerous points of criticisms can fall and weigh heavily on the likeability of the film’s adaptations. This includes Mortal Kombat (the 1995, 1997, and 2021 version), 1993’s Super Mario Bros., 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, 2007’s Hitman, 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chung-Li, 2016’s Assassin’s Creed, 2016’s The Angry Birds Movie just to name a few. However, there have been a few exceptions to this: finding some feature films to rise above the mediocrity level of a video game movie, including like 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, 2018’s Ready Player One, and 2019’s Sonic the Hedgehog, among several others. Now, 20th Century Fox and director Shawn Levy presents the latest offering of a video game movie with the release of Free Guy. Does the movie rise to challenge of being #1 in this cinematic arena or is it too derivate and simplistic that it falls prey to filmmaking conventions?

THE STORY


Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a friendly Non-Playable Character in the popular online game “Free City”, going about his business in the same routine every day with a pleasant and cheerful disposition towards the violent and havoc events that happen around. He also enjoys his time as a bank teller, working with his friendly pal, security guard Buddy (Lil Rei Howery) to pass the time. Tearing through the city streets are the infamous “Sunglasses People”, who are actually the players in the game, with one in particular, Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), catching Guy’s fancy, inspiring him to acquire the eyewear that allows him to participate in the antics of a player in Free City’s landscape. Experiencing an overwhelming education on how the game is actually played and how to “level up”, Guy works hard to impress Molotov Girl, who’s actually Millie Rusk in the real world, a game designer that once partnered with Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery) to create a special virtual world, only to have their code stolen by the devious / zany mogul business owner of Soonami Games named Antwan (Taika Waititi), who turned their surreal project into what became Free City. Trying to acquire evidence of this theft, Millie makes her way deep into Free City’s underbelly, soon joined by Guy, whose newfound liberation has turned him into an online celebrity amongst players across the web. However, to reach her goal, Millie soon finds out that she needs Guy’s unique ability to help her secure what she claims, but uncovering the truth of Guy’s “free will” existence might just her undoing; placing her, Guy, and Walter on a collision course that will change everything.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


In comes as no surprise that I like both movies and video games, with the marriage between the two being something of an interest for me. While I’m more of a movie / film aficionado, I’m actually more of just a casual gamer. Not saying there is nothing wrong with those hardcore gamers out there, but I can only play a video game for like half hour or 45 minute…. maybe an hour if I’m trying to get passed a level / mission before I lose interest and want to do something else to pass the time. Anyway, back to the main point of this paragraph, video game movies have more of a “curse” than a blessing, with result being a somewhat mixed to bad reception; finding most to be difficultly in bridging a proper medium between video game and movie. Of course, there has been some that have been entertaining such as some of my personal favorite ones like Sonic the Hedgehog, Wreck-It Ralph, and Tomb Raider, but then there are some that are just plain bad like Mortal Kombat Annihilation (although one scene in the movie I like) and almost completely unrecognizable to its source material like 1993’s Super Mario Bros.; something that put a “nail in the coffin” from Nintendo in translating their games into feature films. Another problem of video game adaptations are in its appeal to the masses vs. its fanbase; collectively creating problems to a more singular grouping of viewers out there that might not cater to the general moviegoer populace. Prime example of this problem can be found in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children or Warcraft. Both are good movies (in my opinion), but feel more dedicated to its fanbase rather than general viewers. Still, for better or worse, adapting popular video games into movies is something that Hollywood isn’t going to stop anytime soon; aiming to one day claim to break the so-called “video game movie curse”.

This, of course, brings me back around to talking about Free Guy, a 2021 a action adventure comedy feature film and the latest offering from the video game movie veins. I think it was a while back when I first heard about this project, with director Shawn Levy being attached to a movie about a online video game setting. It was all a bit vague as it was in the early stages of development. After that, I do remember hearing that actor Ryan Reynolds was signed onto the movie in the lead role, which (like many) gained my interest. Sometime after that, I saw the film’s first movie trailer, which I believe that was attached to the theatrical release of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, with the upcoming being promoted for a July 3rd, 2020. However, due to the shuttering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Free Guy was delayed and pushed several times, including a December 11th, 2020, release and a May 21st, 2021 release before it was finally confirmed to be theatrical released on August 13th, 2021. While that movie was released on my birthday (Yeah!), I decided to wait a week to see the movie as I was busy with work and celebrating my birthday weekend. So, I saw Free Guy the following week, but then (like the movie delayed releases), I decided to push back doing my review for the film, for (again) I was busy with work and with my upcoming vacation…. I wanted to get some other movies of 2021 completed. Thankfully, I did and now have some spare time to share my thoughts on Free Guy. And what did I think of it? To me, I really liked the movie. Despite the abundance of familiarity, Free Guy was great and entertaining action-comedy that delivered on its fun premise and video game aesthetics. It does come close to being my favorite video game movie endeavor….and that’s good thing and think many will agree on that.

Free Guy is directed by Shawn Levy, whose previous directorial works include the Night at the Museum trilogy (2006-2014) as well as The Internship and Date Night. Given his background of directing feature films that stray to the more comedic genre, Levy seems like a suitable choice for helm a project like Free Guy; approaching the film with a great sense of comedy and video game nuances to make the feature rivel in its zany and boisterous tale of a self-aware NPC character. To that end, Levy definitely succeeds; brightening the movie with plenty of eye-popping visual candy throughout the feature that are reminiscent of video games as well as narrative that has a good proportionate balance between its action and comedy. On the latter point, Levy is good at, especially in the comedic aspect; finding Free Guy to have a lot more laughs than other comedy movies of 2021. This is where the movie excels and plays to Levy’s strengths, given the director’s background, with Free Guy having a ton of humorous moments of one-liner jokes, rapid-fire banter, and physical sight gags. Naturally, some of the best parts of the movie is during the first half, with the juxtaposition of chaotic / rampaging scenes happening in Free City against the normalcy of the NPC characters going about their daily routine business. Plus, the film’s comedy hits a lot of more of its targets than misses, which makes for those moments to pure enjoyment rather than cringeworthy.

In the video game aspect, Levy does make a grandiose gesture to the gamers out there in the movie and I think he does a good job; shaping Free Guy to have plenty of Easter Egg-like cameo, callbacks, and references to popular video games of recent such as Cyberpunk 2077, Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, and World of Warcraft just to name a few. This makes the film’s realization of Free City, the film’s online video game realm, feel both familiar and creatively fun to watch, with Levy staging scenes and events throughout the movie in a well-timed manner. This also provides plenty of video game-esque action sequences that are utilized to create some fun and entertaining blockbuster style, with Levy playing around with the commonplace tropes of “open world” gaming, including chaotic action, a large inventory of weapons / tools at a “players” disposal, the interacting of both players and non-playable characters alike, and the almost “Wild West” aspect that the online open world video game that makes up Free City just to name a few. It these moments that also shine through in the movie; finding Levy’s direction fun and embracing those “gaming” nuances in a entertaining way. Also, i felt that Levy makes the film light and breezy within all of its various aspects, especially with the movie having a runtime of 115 minutes (one hour and fifty-five minutes). Thus, Free Guy feels more enjoyable and doesn’t get entangled within unnecessary subplots or going off on unwanted tangents, with Levy keeping his “camera’s lens” focus on the task at hand.

The story of Free Guy is one of familiarity and breeds some predictable notions (more on that below), but I think that was intention behind this movie; drumming up ideas and scenarios that were utilized (or at the very least that play on the video game / online adventure premise, but with the movie putting its own spin on those tropes. The idea of a NPC character breaking free of the constraint of what he’s always done (day after day) and seeing him interact with “players” is something hilarious to see and the movie puts that notion front and center, especially in the first half of the feature. In this regard, I think that the film does succeed and certainly showcases that notion. Interestingly, the film’s script also touches upon some themes throughout Free Guy, especially ones that touch upon corporate greed and how the industry is more invested in churning out sequels rather than generating something new or original. It’s definitely a poignant one as this can translate into many various facets that are not just out online video game.

In the presentation category, Free Guy is a solid endeavor; utilizing the heavy CGI visual effects shots and sequences smartly to build the feature’s background setting throughout the movie. This is the primary case with the film’s main setting of Free City, which showcases the classic urban city landscape, which is “amped” up with colorful / flashy video game aesthetics and aspects. Everything looks slick and visual fun to watch, which makes the background setting compelling to view throughout the feature. So, it goes without saying that Free Guys is a visually movie and its color palette and other flashy nuances keep a viewer’s eyes glue; dazzling with blockbuster flair. Naturally, the other important pieces of a filmmaking help bolster the movie’s setting, including the “behind the scenes” team like Steve Cooper and Beat Fruitger (art direction), Ethan Tobman (production design), Kimberly Leonard and Leslie E. Rollins (set decorations), and Marlene Stewart (costume designs), which are all represented well. Additionally, what also helps the film’s visual setting is the cinematography work by George Richmond, which definitely adds a lens of dramatic for some of the film’s more unique and cinematic moments. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Christopher Beck is a solid one; finding the movie’s musical composition fitting for the feature’s story it is telling….be it quiet character scenes or loud action sequences.

There are problems that I noticed that Free Guy can’t overcome and lessen the film’s creativity ways in how it presents its narrative, characters, and film altogether. What I immediately noticed about the movie is how similar the film is with other feature movies out there that dealt with video game worlds and / or online presence on the world wide web. How so? Well, as the movie’s story slowly unfolds, Free Guy travels down a very familiar path that has been somewhat done before in several other feature film endeavors, including Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Ready Player One. It’s not a complete “deal breaker” as I kind of expected this, especially giving the premise of Free Guy’s story. Still, the film’s script, does fall prey to some of those recycled ideas and scenarios from those previous video game / online scenarios, which causes a lot of familiarity and predictable plot points that follow. This includes a programmed character going against parameters, the discovery of what a “player” can do, the events that takes place in the “real world,” and a climactic battle where the entire world is watching…. just to name a few. It’s clear of where the movie’s narrative will go and its easy to see how it all be resolved before it actually happens. Thus, there is a touch of formulaic notion that permeates the entire film. That being said, I sort of knew that it was going to be like this, but it would’ve been a beneficial if the film’s script was a bit more refined and push away from those similar style feature film narratives. Maybe a deeper understanding of its theme, online video gaming, or creative notions. They’re all present in the movie, but not fully.

Additionally, the movie does fall prey to a few more nuances aspect, which the movie struggles to shake off. One such aspect is in the latte half of the feature, with large emphasis on the “real world” setting / characters as the film’s story begins to reach its climax. In truth, the stuff that happens in the “real world” is that quite compelling. Yes, there is a lot of important stuff that goes on and does effect that outcome in Free City, but neither Levy’s direction nor the feature’s script makes the “real world” scenes that compelling. I think that there could’ve been more substance in the area and almost had a better blend of the “real world” and the “game world” like what Ready Player One was able to achieve. That’s more of a minor criticisms. Also, I felt that the back half of Free Guy struggles and gets weighed down a bit within its own machinations. What’s presented works and I do like it, but I felt that there’ could’ve been something a bit “more.” More action, more stakes, more elements from the MMO fanfare. There’s just something of that special “It” factor that Levy doesn’t quite capture correctly; resulting in a few missteps throughout Free Guy’s second half.

The cast in Free Guy is relatively small (the main players of the film), but that doesn’t mean the acting talents selected for these particular characters aren’t effective. Quite the contrary, the cast is solid across the board, with all given some type of character performances in their respective roles. The only downside is that some of the “real world” elements (as I mentioned above) don’t translate quite well into character-built time. Leading the charge in the movie (and headline the feature) is actor Ryan Reynolds, who plays the film’s protagonist hero character…Guy. Reynolds, who is known for his roles in Deadpool, The Proposal, and Buried, has certainly had his difficulties with movies, with some defining his acting career, while others have completely missed their marks. Personally, I think it all depends upon the material that Reynolds is given for the role and how his character is portrayed throughout the film’s narrative. Luckily, Reynold’s involvement in Free Guy is definitely one of his better roles in his career, especially with some of his more recent endeavors, makes for a such a fun and naively charming character as Guy, a loveable / yet optimistic non-player character in Free City. Reynolds isn’t snarky or super crass like in Deadpool or the Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, but plays up his more likeable charisma and joyful screen presence in Free Guy, which is clearly represented in him playing Guy, who is sweetly naïve, yet still grows to be a compelling and endearing character to root for in his journey. Thus, it goes without saying that the movie’s likeability rest on Reynold’s shoulders, which the actor holds up firmly with pride; charming his way throughout the entire film and seems to be having a blast in the role. Overall, I think that Reynolds was fantastic as Guy and definitely made the movie what it is: a fun and comedic charm of delight.

Behind Reynold’s Guy, actress Jodie Comer comes as a close second in the most screen time in Free Guy, playing the dual character role of Molotov Girl in Free City and Millie in the “real world”. Comer, who is known for her roles in Killing Eve, The White Princess, and The Last Duel, does a terrific job in playing the role of Molotov Girl, who acts as the classic badass “femme fatale” action heroine character. It’s fun and easy to see that Comer is having a blast in this role. Plus, her and Reynolds share some good on-screen chemistry with each other; projecting the right amount of witty “back and forth” banter every now and again, which is fun to watch. Comer’s “real world” counterpart character of Millie is a bit more straightforward and a tad conventional. That’s not to say that Comer doesn’t play the role effectively well as she does, but it’s something a bit formulaic and not quite as strong as Molotov Girl (visually or well-rounded). Still, regardless of that, I think that Comer was terrific in the movie and playing two very distinct character roles in the film.

Behind her, actor Joe Keery (Stranger Things and After Everything) plays the character of Walter “Keys” McKeys, Millie’s fellow co-creator of a program that was stolen from Soonami Games. Like Comer’s Millie, the character of Keys fits into the “real world” scenes and is played up a bit too straightforward as the “daring” young person who battles against the devious CEO owner. Again, that didn’t bother me as much, but I felt that there could’ve been more depth into his character. Still, I think that Keery was good in the role and, given with the material that he was given, help elevate the character of Keys from what was presented on the film’s script. In truth, the most memorable “real world” character in the movie would have to be the character of Antwan, the flashy and cooky CEO owner of Soonami Games. Played by actor / director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit), Antwan is humorous because quite eccentric in the movie, with Waititi fully embraces that idea within his performances, including his goofy costume attires outfits, zippy one-liners, and just an all-round solid / committed performance. The character itself is a bit cliched at times, with Antwan become just another “big bad” character who doesn’t care about the creative process and more interested money. Although, I kind of figured that going into the movie, so it didn’t bother me as much. Regardless of that, I think that Waititi was great in the role of Antwan and was probably the best “real world” in Free Guy solely based on his wacky performance. Good job Waititi!

With a vast majority of the film focusing primarily on these players (heroes and villains), Free Guy doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of supporting players. The only exception of this comes in the form of two characters, with one being the character of Buddy, a bank security guard in Free City / best friend to Guy and who is played by actor Lil Rel Howery (Uncle Drew and Get Out), and the other being Mouser, a programmer at Soonami / friend to Keys and who is played by actor Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect and Brittany Runs a Marathon). Both characters are created for amusement / one-line zingers here and there, which, given the comedic atmospheric nature of the film’s identity, seems appropriate, while the acting talents of Howery and Ambudkar are good respectfully. Nothing to complain about their characters nor their performances. The rest of the supporting players in the movie are made up of a lot of fun and interesting cameo-like appearances from celebrities. Some are recognizable, while others are downright hidden. There is a ton of these scattered throughout the movie and it’s kind of fun (when you do figure who is in this movie) of their involvement in Free Guy. I won’t spoil as that would ruin it the fun of trying figure out those cameos, but just be on the look out for throughout the movie.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The world needed a hero….and we got guy! The tale of video game NPC’s liberation from his set path and discovering the life of a “player” becomes much more than intricate and important to the future of artificial intelligence in the movie Free Guy. Director Shawn Levy’s latest film takes the setting of an online video game arena and combines that aspect with the comedic charm of romantic comedy and a blockbuster; concocting something that is fun and entertaining. While the movie does struggle slightly in its narrative layer (predictable and formulaic) as well as a few minor nitpicks, the film still rises above the rip-off variant degree and becomes something more unique, thanks to Levy’s direction, the aesthetics of the video game realm, a solid presentation, humorous jokes / sight gags, and a good performances from its cast (especially Reynolds). Personally, I liked this movie. It has some familiar beats, and some elements aren’t exactly original / polished, but I felt that the film was loads of fun to watch and it was some good popcorn blockbuster entertainment. Plus, I felt that all the anticipation and delays for this movie was well worth the wait. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is charmingly “highly recommended” as it’s something that many can watch (casual moviegoers or gamers) and achieve the same outcome about this movie (relatively speaking). In the end, Free Guy, might be one of the better movies within the video game film adaptation endeavor making; delivering some charming and fun story beats and a well-balanced action and comedy narrative that proves more well-rounded than to be first expected. More to the point, Free Guy is a great and fun to watch with simplistic nature of movie escapism…. plain and simple. Just remember…. don’t just have a good day…. have a great day!

4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: August 13th, 2021
Reviewed On: October 5th, 2021

Free Guy  is 115 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for strong fantasy violence throughout, language, and crude / suggestive refences