Free Guy Review: Ryan Reynolds' Action-Comedy Is a Total Delight - VRGyani News and Media

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Free Guy Review: Ryan Reynolds' Action-Comedy Is a Total Delight

When I saw the first trailer for Free Guy, I was a bit worried. It featured a protagonist putting on a pair of sunglasses and seeing the world for what it truly was similar to John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic They Live, but whereas Carpenter critiqued the forces of consumerism and conformity, Free Guy looked like it was going to embrace them. Thankfully, Shawn Levy’s movie isn’t that, and if anything, it’s more of a mash-up of The LEGO Movie and The Matrix where an average joe who feels like a passive observer in his own life falls for a cool lady that shows him his world isn’t what he thought it was. While Free Guy doesn’t reach the dizzying highs of its inspirations (an awfully high bar to clear), it manages to leave its own mark thanks to Levy’s effervescent direction, Ryan Reynolds’ winning lead performance, and an upbeat tone that finds the humor and connections in gaming.

Guy (Reynolds) is a bank teller with a fairly mundane existence. He gets up, puts on the same blue button-down with khakis, works at a bank that gets robbed every day, and he hangs out with his best friend, the bank’s security guard, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). But what Guy doesn’t know about his existence is that he’s an NPC (non-playable character) in an open-world video game similar to Grand Theft Auto Online called “Free City”. But when he decides to put on some sunglasses that other people wear, he sees the world for all its gamified options, but all of his attention lands on Millie (Jodie Comer), a real person who is searching Free City for proof that the game’s underlying code was stolen by its creator Antoine (Taika Waititi). With the help of Millie's estranged former partner "Keys" (Joe Keery), who currently works at Antoine’s company, Soonami, Millie and Guy discover that their relationship might change both of their worlds.

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If you’re not into video games, I wouldn’t say that’s a hurdle for Free Guy any more than not being into LEGO is a hurdle for The LEGO Movie. They’re in the culture, and as long as you know how they work, then you’re pretty much set. Gamers may get a little more out of the movie, especially as they spot cameos from their favorite streamers, but overall, it’s really a story about a guy who stops being a passive participant in his own life, which is incredibly uplifting. At times, Free Guy has strong echoes of HBO’s Westworld where the hosts exist to be exploited by the violent urges of humanity, but whereas that show chooses to go in a darker (and also tedious) direction, Free Guy looks for the comical. In a gaming world, people act horribly, but also those people tend to be teenagers posing as adults so it’s funny to see the gap between their online selves and their actual selves. Even Millie is posing to some extent having been part of a game she wants to tear down. Guy, despite being an algorithm, is in a way the most authentic person because he’s so guileless and driven by his affection for Millie rather than playing one role and being something else in the real world.

Levy handles all of this with a light touch. While Free Guy draws comparisons to heavier works, Levy is in full command of the comical tone he wants to bring to the movie that, in an incredible sleight-of-hand, never deprives the movie of its weightier themes. Oddly, if you just let Ryan Reynolds be funny and charming, you can kind of smuggle in a movie that can give you a full-blown existential crisis while also rebelling against the forces of nihilism. This somehow exists in a movie where players are busy tea-bagging their kills or doing little dances. Levy has fully digested where gamer culture is in 2021, and rather than critiquing or celebrating it, he takes the good with the bad and mixes it together to provide a gentle parody that never plays as holier-than-thou. Imagine Ready Player One without the grating nostalgia and defensive crouch, and you have the far superior Free Guy.

Given this difficult balancing act of embracing gaming culture while not being subservient to it, I’m kind of blown away at how well Free Guy works. It’s consistently hilarious, but it has a gigantic heart that it happily wears on its sleeve. It’s almost jarring when Waititi enters the picture to play the villain, not only because he’s such an endearing actor (he gave us the freedom to chuckle at Adolf Hitler), but because he’s so one-dimensional and lacks the texture of the other characters despite still being funny. Antoine is like the film’s other minor flaws—you can see them if you search them out, but that’s like looking for bugs in a game where you’re having too much fun to take yourself out of it.

Free Guy is easily Shawn Levy’s best movie, a film where he’s even willing to poke fun at sequels and commercialization in a major studio tentpole that will almost definitely lead to a sequel if it’s a hit (a debatable prospect given the pandemic; in normal circumstances, it’s difficult to imagine a crowd-pleaser like this suffering at the box office). Reynolds is at the top of the game, and he’s surrounded by equally strong actors as well as some cameos that I won’t spoil here. The whole thing comes together to make for a joyful, uplifting blockbuster that feels both of this moment and yet stunningly durable thanks to its larger themes. Once Free Guy is over, you immediately want to play it again.

Rating: A-

Free Guy opens in theaters only on August 13th.

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