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Film review: Free Guy

5 / 5 ( 1 vote )

Written by Steven

Review Overview

Cast

8/10

Corporate tie-ins

6/10

Call for kindness

8/10

Rating 7.3/10

Rating Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer are a delight in this witty and warm-hearted video game satire.

Director: Shawn Levy Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi Certificate: 12 Where to watch Free Guy online in the UK/ US/ CAN: Disney+ / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI

“Don’t have a good day, have a great day.” Those are the words with which Guy (Ryan Reynolds) greets everyone he meets. Day in day out, like clockwork, he wishes everyone a great day – right after he’s waved to his goldfish, ordered the same takeaway coffee and calmly worked through the umpteenth armed robbery at the bank where he works. It’s not just because Guy is a creature of habit, but because he’s programmed that way. He’s an NPC (non-player character) in a game called Free City – and hasn’t experienced one iota of freedom in his blandly coded life.

That changes, though, when he ends up wearing a pair of the sunglasses that are usually sported by actual player’s avatars – and suddenly, he finds an endless cycle of weapons, power-ups and tools at his fingertips. He can go where he wants and do what he wants – much to shock of everyone in the cafe where he normally gets his coffee. All the while, he finds himself drawn to “Molotov Girl”, the in-game character played by Millie (Jodie Comer), the developer who was responsible for him being created in the first place.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Free Guy is The Truman Show for the video game generation. While that might seem like a cynical project, the film succeeds because it manages to balance out calculated commercialism with pure heart. Writers Zak Penn (Ready Player One) and Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles) deftly weave their way through franchise nods and pop-culture references (from Portal to Star Wars and Marvel) and, while the latter come courtesy of Fox’s parent company, the film finds enough good-natured sentiment to just about wriggle out of the feeling of Disney playing virtual monopoly. In the pantheon of post-modern cash-ins, it’s closer to The LEGO Movie than Wreck It Ralph.

That’s partly because the film actually finds things to say about video games, rather than just name-drop familiar properties. The film cuts between the in-game hijinks and the real world, where developers Millie (Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery) find their intellectual property stolen by corrupt CEO Antwan (Taika Waititi, having lots of fun insulting everyone around him). While the figures within the game have a crisis of identity and purpose, its authors battle against their creativity being exploited and plagiarised for money – a satirical parallel of conformity and capitalism that’s lightweight but nonetheless effective.

It’s also because the sandbox world of the video game is so well realised by director Shawn Levy, piecing together a plausible halfway point between Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto – a place of candy-coloured surfaces but where juvenile violence and conflict are the order of the day. Crucially, Guy’s instant popularity with Free City’s fans comes not because he outplays everyone in the carnage but because he goes in the opposite direction, using his newfound powers to do good things and help people. It’s a deceptively earnest call for compassion and kindness in a world of trolling and abuse.

Ryan Reynolds is the perfect guy to make that call – he approaches the part of Guy with a wide-eyed vulnerability and innocence that recalls his work in The Voices rather than the sarcastic deadpan of Deadpool. He’s relentlessly charismatic and likeable, investing his shallow, pre-programmed smile with a growing sentience and awareness that’s irresistible to witness. He’s supported with fast-talking exasperation by the amusing Lil Rel Howery as his best friend, security guard Buddy, and countered brilliantly by a sensational Jodie Comer, who tackles stunts, wisecracks and romantic chemistry like she’s been leading Hollywood tentpoles for years. When he tells her that coffee “tastes like liquid suffering” and she nods at his unexpected wisdom, it’s a funny and sweet moment that finds surprising depth in their unusual relationship.

Flying by in 115 minutes, the result is a witty and warm-hearted blockbuster. It may not always succeed as an ode to agency and individuality, but it’s a winning reminder in a digital age that the joy of video games lies in building connections and community with other people.

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