When director Shawn Levy and star Ryan Reynolds spoke to Total Film about their summer blockbuster Free Guy last year, they were determined that it should be seen on a big screen, holding out against streaming and gunning for an opening like we used to have in the ‘before times’. Watching Free Guy now it’s clear to see why this intoxicatingly upbeat, community-spirited, and eye-popping movie needs to be seen at the cinema with an audience.
The opener charts the rinse-and-repeat day of eternal optimist Guy (Reynolds) – an NPC in open-world GTA-alike game Free City – as he delivers his daily catchphrases, chats with bank co-worker Buddy (Lil Rey Howery) and dreams of love like a VR Truman Burbank. But a spanner’s soon chucked into his rote existence. A Mariah Carey-infused meet-cute with kick-ass player Molotov Girl (a full-wattage Jodie Comer) knocks Guy for six, prompting him to deviate from his protocols.
Questioning his life, purpose, and prescribed limitations, he tests predetermined fate and societal expectation to become an unlikely hero – ‘Blue Shirt Guy’ – causing an in-world butterfly effect. Meanwhile, Free City’s vainglorious developer Antwone (Taika Waititi) plans to shut down the game in order to push players to invest in a new iteration, so sends two of his coders (Joe Keery and Utkarsh Ambudkar) into the matrix to take Guy offline…
Loaded with stunning visual effects, gaming Easter eggs and star cameos, plus some mic-drop franchise nods that are possible thanks to this former Fox project being subsumed by Disney, Free Guy is like Reynolds himself – mile-a-minute, self-aware and crowd-pleasing. (Or possibly smug and annoying, depending on your personal POV).
But whatever your stance on Reynolds’ trademark schtick, where this adventure shifts gear from an accomplished, explode-y blockbuster to something that might actually move you is in deft screenwriting that takes in conversations around existential angst, corporate greed, artistic integrity, ethics, people power and living an authentic life.
Satisfying for gamers and non-gamers alike – and toting an unexpectedly bittersweet payoff – it feels both smart and relevant for audiences that have lived through a pandemic and crisis leadership in recent years. And though you could pick holes in Waititi’s strangely mirthless performance, the oversimplification of coding or sneaking similarities to Ready Player One or Space Jam: A New Legacy, it would feel churlish to do so in a film so brimful of infectious hope.
Free Guy is in cinemas from August 13. For more, be sure to check out our list of the most exciting upcoming movies heading to cinemas soon.