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Had the world stayed on the course intended in 2020, we’d have already seen Free Guy by now. Director Shawn Levy’s first collaboration with Ryan Reynolds was supposed to launch roughly a year ago, but found itself postponed in order to preserve the film as a theatrical experience amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. That decision seems to have paid off, as this video game caper could be the most fun anyone could have in theaters in summer 2021.
Free Guy partially takes place in the open world video game Free City, which runs like a mashup between Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, and The Sims. In that world, an non-playable character (or NPC) by the name of Guy (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself drawn into the most classic of predicaments: he wants to find more in life, and it ends up finding him. Through a chance meeting with Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), our bank teller protagonist finds himself hearing Mariah Carey music and growing as a person – wanting to break out of all his normal routines. Unfortunately, this couldn’t happen at a worse moment, as in the real world the programmer who plays as Molotov Girl, Millie (Comer), is trying to save Guy and his world from some very real drama on her side of the screen.
Part biting satire, part big hearted emotional storytelling, Free Guy succeeds where many blockbusters try and fail.
In the making of Free Guy, both Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy have stressed that they were interested in bringing a fresh IP to theaters, and part of that exercise plays out through a sharp current of satire that’s woven in through the world of the game, as well as the evil schemes of gaming CEO/antagonist Antwan (Taika Waititi). Poking fun at the debate of originality versus familiarity in entertainment, words like “reboot” are thrown around as solutions, but also very timely nods.
It could be easy for that sort of humor to get old and bitter, but Free Guy isn’t so fixated on the point that it forgets to keep an open heart. Punchlines and emotional beats coexist in this universe, and Ryan Reynolds is clearly having fun playing the optimistic and naïve Guy. Equally up to the task is Lil Rel Howery as Buddy, Guy’s best friend, and quite possibly the sweetest person in Free City. Threatening to steal the movie with a powerfully wholesome energy, Howery even sticks the landing on an emotional beat that surprised me, and will surprise audiences. As both worlds fixate on Guy's journey to defy his programming and become “the great guy”, emotion and humor are allowed to come together in a very pleasing union.
The sky is the limit for Free Guy’s visually exciting universe, but it never gets lost in its ambitions.
A key element of the movie's humor stems from the absurd, Looney Tunes-level of jokes, Easter eggs, and cameos included in Free Guy. Leading to more of the laugh out loud moments of levity, writers Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn don’t skew too hard into that particular turn either. You may find yourself scanning the screen for all the jokes you can catch, and listening a little more closely to the vocal cameos, but nothing ever turns up as too loud or out of place.
There’s also not one, but two different love stories that Free Guy dabbles with, as if trying to be a commentary on modern pop culture wasn’t enough. Those plotlines never get in the way of each other, nor do they weigh down Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer’s action-packed journey in the digital realm. Just as the brightly colored world of Free City is best seen on a huge screen, Free Guy’s emotional journeys are also fit for a theater near you. Everything is heightened in the total package that is this unique action-comedy.
Free Guy is absolute proof that Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy’s talents are a perfect fit.
Shawn Levy has always prided himself on delivering humanistic blockbusters, and in the tradition of Real Steel and the Night at the Museum movies he’s delivered on that promise yet again with Free Guy. You can really feel that everyone on the movie’s team really buys into the world that’s being sold, as well as the messages that organically work their way into what could have just been a surface level blockbuster. Instead, the finished product is something that actually backs larger than life thrills with a sweet, sweet fantasy that boasts an equally outsized heart.
Free Guy is absolutely proof positive that Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy are creative brothers, and it’s got the makings of a comfort food blockbuster that’ll keep fans coming back for more – which is perfect, because of just how packed the whole experience is with new details to pick up on in subsequent viewings. This is, quite possibly, the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer; and Free Guy looks like it could certainly go down as a personal favorite. It’s a level up from the competition, providing boss level thrills and replayable joy during a summer season that could definitely use the boost.