Free Guy sees Ryan Reynolds express passionate creative freedom in an original video game film.
Ryan Reynolds has become synonymous over years past as the foul-mouthed mercenary Deadpool, creating self-aware comedies, and his latest project Free Guy is no different.
Directed by Shawn Levy, who previously helmed Netflix’s Stranger Things and the Night in the Museum trilogy, Reynolds leads as the blue-collared worker Guy – a non-playable character (NPC) in the video game Free City who is stuck in a monotonous loop as a bank teller and falls victim to countless robberies during his day.
However, Guy pines for more in life, and after meeting player ‘molotovgirl’, controlled by coder Millie (Jodie Comer), Guy realises he has more control over the game than he thought.
Creating havoc in Free City’s Grand Theft Auto inspired-game as the hero, Guy attracts attention from megalomaniac game creator, Antwan (Taika Waiti) who sees Guy’s uprising as a threat to his profit margin.
All the while, Millie searches for evidence that Antwan stole her code from a previous game focussed on developed artificial intelligence that she made with Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery), now an employee for Antwan’s company Soonami as an anti-grief and hacker worker.
Most interestingly, littered throughout the films are evident examples that both Reynolds and Levy had the supportive finances from 20th Century Fox, now owned by The Walt Disney Company, to pay direct homages to not just the gaming industry, but also as a result of the Fox/Disney merger, the property now owned by Disney.
For instance, Epic’s Fortnite, Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Deadpool, and Star Wars, all appear throughout the film, with an obvious gaming reference being Soonami, the company name pastiching production company Konami, responsible for Metal Gear Solid and the famous gaming cheat code sequence – the Konami Code.
Again, much like Reynold’s style of filmmaking, this self-aware comedy relies mostly on audiences having a pre-established understanding of the gaming industry, but also Reynold’s body of work which also needs audiences to know his friends and relationships with them, in order to fully appreciate some of the more nuanced jokes.
For instance, Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney co-own football club Wrexham County football club. This is of importance as McElhenney has seen success in years recent with the creation of the Apple TV show Mythic Quest, a show focussed on an egomaniac video game creator failing to give credit to his team’s creations that almost parallel Reynold’s Free Guy.
Similarly, Reynolds’ most popular joke is an ongoing feud with Australian actor Hugh Jackman, with references appearing in Deadpool, social media, and real-life after the pair met on the set of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where Reynolds debuted as his most iconic role Deadpool.
Reynolds as such ensures to include Jackman in Free Guy, opting to kill him before the opening credits continuing the tongue-in-cheek joke that Reynolds is stronger and better than Jackman, again relying on the audience’s understanding of Reynolds’ own life to understand the joke.
Unfortunately, this is where Free Guy slips up. If audiences don’t catch the references, nor the pastiche, then it doesn’t do much else to grab and maintain attention. It relies so heavily on those blink-or-you-miss-it moments and nods such as the gaming clan Ragnarok – a reference to Marvel’s Thor Ragnarok, directed by Taika Watiti – that the jokes fall flat when they pass over the majority of heads.
The film could have been a satirical commentary on the exploitative video gaming industry, and the rise of gambling-focussed microtransactions, much like how John Carpenter’s They Live is a satirical comedy on advertising and wider capitalism.
Instead, the pacing issues and inconsistent tone of comedy result in a bland affair that indicates a production heavily interrupted by the pandemic.
Despite this, there are moments that are genuinely endearing in Free Guy, and cameos that impress, with the film occasionally teetering on the realm of groundbreaking.
It is by far the best video game focussed movie there is, proving that an original idea that works in tandem with video games will allow more creative freedom than an adaptation.
Interestingly this is a lesson director Shawn Levy learned after dedicating over a year to create an adaptation on Naughty Dog’s video game Uncharted set to star Tom Holland before being passed to Venom and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer and set for release in 2022.
Most ironically, a film about intellectual property and evil corporate entities wanting to buy out original ideas has been picked up by Disney for a sequel so any chances of an actual commentary on the state of the industry in the sequel will be missing in favour of cheap jokes and more moments of self-awareness.