20th Century Studios
Written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn
Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Channing Tatum, Britne Oldford, Camille Kostek, Mark Lanier, Mike Devine and Kenneth Israel
A bank teller discovers that he’s actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game.
Video game movies have a dubious history in Hollywood, but Free Guy takes the genre into a new and interesting direction by telling a story that is rooted in the human desire to break out of the roles we either put ourselves into or allow society to place on us.
The film centers on a man named Guy. Guy has a regular life and a regular job at the local bank in Free City. What makes Guy’s world different is that he is an NPC. An NPC is a non-player character who exists in the background of video games. In this case, Guy exists in an open world massive multiplayer video game of which he has no knowledge. All he knows is that he exists in a world where his bank is constantly robbed with no resistance from him and that he is not allowed to interact with the “people in sunglasses” who litter the environment.
What he doesn’t know is that those people are players who use Free City as their means of virtual escape. When Guy decides he wants something more out of life after meeting a mysterious woman named Millie (Comer), he decides to fight back and discovers the truth of the world he lives in. At the same time, Millie has infiltrated the game to search for something that she created for another game. Something the company’s owner and developer Antwan (Waititi) wants to keep hidden until he can release a new version of the game.
Guy discovers that the best way to get Millie’s attention is to level himself up by performing the missions within the game. A move that gets the attention of everyone because they don’t know he’s an NPC. Reynolds is charming, vulnerable and funny as Guy. He plays the everyman character pitch perfectly and allows enough vulnerability for the audience to believe the twist about his character and his true purpose.
Comer does a great job as Millie. She eschews the convention of being a stereotypical character and brings real strength, charm, humor and agency to her role. Lil Rel Howery is hilarious as Guy’s fellow NPC and best friend Buddy who supports Guy but doesn’t want to challenge the life he enjoys. The rest of the cast is great as well and many of them have some great one-liners that make the comedic situations work throughout the film.
Story-wise, Free Guy is a lot of fun. The comedy works across the board. The romantic elements work broadly and lead to an interesting and sweet resolution. The mystery elements work because the audience is both enjoying the story and characters. Beyond that, Free Guy is a special effects spectacle and those elements are both vibrant and fun. There are some clever inside jokes that gamers will enjoy a lot. Levy does a great job of giving everything a unique look and feel while making the action elements visually engaging.
Free Guy works because it knows what it is and doesn’t try to deviate from it. It’s a fun, popcorn film for fans of games, pop culture and comedy. It’s not interested in huge stakes, but it does allow the viewer to both relate to and cheer for its characters. A fun, visually entertaining spectacle.