Free Guy may be a video game movie, but it's not just a movie for people who play video games. As director Shawn Levy tells GamesRadar+, it's bigger than that.
"I confess I was a casual gamer at best before I made Free Guy," Levy says. "In fact, in my first conversation with Ryan, I was like, I don't know that I'm the guy, because I'm not hardcore, as far as gaming. And Ryan was like, 'Well, neither am I. That's why it's perfect. Let's just get it right, but make a movie that's bigger than a video game.' And I think one of the keys of directing is admitting what you don't know. So I spent months consulting with and talking with game designers, coders, video game publishers, really learning about the details of that industry and of that culture."
Free Guy follows Ryan Reynolds’ Guy, an NPC (AKA Non-Playable Character) who becomes self-aware. When the developers of Free City – the GTA-like game that Guy lives in – decide to shut the servers down, Guy must fight to save the world as he knows it. But our hero’s not alone: Guy’s helped by Molotov Girl, the avatar for developer Millie (Jodie Comer), and her real-world partner Keys (Joe Keery).
Easter egg hunt
The movie is littered with Easter eggs, including references to Fortnite to Portal. "Ryan and I are both fans of Easter eggs. And you know, Easter eggs were invented, basically, by video games. So to make a movie with this premise, and not populate it with Easter eggs, would have been a huge missed opportunity," Levy says.
"Some of them were my idea. Some of them were Ryan's idea. But you know, what I really did is I hired an art department and a visual effects department. And I kind of mandated that those departments be filled with people who were younger and way more fluent in gaming than I was. And then the heads of those departments were. And so it was very much a collaborative kind of ethos on this movie where anybody could pitch an idea... And that's where we got such a great diversity and multiplicity of Easter egg ideas."
Although it's not quite an Easter egg, “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey plays a pivotal role in the movie – we hear the iconic song the first time Guy meets Molotov Girl, and we later discover that the song has been purposefully placed within the game as an audio love letter (as for who places it there and who it's aimed at, you'll have to watch the movie to find out). Levy reveals that it was Reynolds who first suggested that particular song.
"I, of course, know the song, but then I listened to it,” he says. “And literally, as soon as her voice kind of does that ethereal opening, and that beat drops. I was like, 'Oh, come on.' And not just because the lyrics were bang on, because it's about his fantasy girl in the movie, but more to the point that song is an instant fast fall of joy. And that's the feeling we wanted for Free Guy, a movie that was not trying to take itself too seriously, and would just give audiences delight. And that song has that same effect."
It turns out Comer sings a version of the song that features in the movie, too. "There's a different rendition of the song at the end, it's kind of like a slower version. And it's her singing," Keery tells us. "She went in and recorded a version. So yeah, it's amazing. I didn't know that until we were watching the movie and Shawn was like, hey, that's Jodie." But what if they had to pick their own love letter song? For Keery, it would be “Fool in the Rain” by Led Zeppelin, while Comer suggests “Lovefool” by The Cardigans.
With Free Guy being described by critics as the upbeat, big-screen antidote to current events, whispers have already begun about a sequel. Could Free Guy 2 be on the cards? Levy seems optimistic. "I think there's definitely scope and an immense potential for a sequel to Free Guy. It's such a winning, optimistic and charming protagonist," he says. "I'd love to see how he fares in other environments. And the thing about gaming is, there's endlessly cool and diverse environments and games that we could put Guy in." However, he adds: "That being said, I've learned over the years, I just focus on making one thing well, whether it was Night at the Museum or Stranger Things, I'm going to make one thing well, and the rest is up to box office and viewership outcomes that I can't control."
Comer says that she'd always be open to returning to the world of Guy and co. "It was so, so much fun," she says. "But I also do think the beautiful thing about this movie is it's so perfectly finished. Like when I watched it, I felt whole, I felt complete, I felt happy for everyone involved. You know what I mean? So I would gladly go back to set with this group of people, but I also feel like the story kind of came around full circle, and that's what I love about it."
If a sequel does get made, though, Keery has an idea for the plot. "It would be fun if the second one was like... this movie embraced AI as a good thing, which is, I think, actually pretty unique in movies," he says. "Usually, it's like, a dark take on, you know, artificial intelligence. But it would be kind of cool if maybe the second one was like a darker spin on it. Maybe Guy isn't all that good after all, or something? That's my pitch." Whether the happy-go-lucky NPC fights to see another day remains to be seen, but, whatever the case, Free Guy remains a joyful presence on the big screen.
Free Guy arrives in theaters on August 13. In the meantime, check out our list of the best video game movies of all time.