Free Guy Review: A fun, but overstuffed comedy adventure
Right from when I first heard about Free Guy’s premise of an NPC, which is basically a background character in a video game, breaking out of its mold to be the main hero of its world, I was instantly hooked. NPCs always face the brunt of player’s wrath and never get to break out of the background, so the idea of one suddenly wanting to change their destiny sounds really fun. Not to mention, with Ryan Reynolds playing this rouge NPC, all the ingredients were there for a fun adventurous riff on gaming and there are times where Free Guy nails its depictions.
The NPCs in Free Guy’s central digital world of Free City, an online game in the same vein of GTA where players can basically do anything from grabbing ice cream to robbing a bank, nicely check the boxes for what many players see throughout gaming. There’s plenty of random repetitive dialogue, walk cycles, mundane daily interactions, and even someone stuck in a “T-pose” that are hilarious to see and are played around well through the film’s main NPC Guy (Reynolds), a bank teller. Guy isn’t even aware that he exists in a virtual world and believes that his constant, unchanging life cycle is of his own choice. His story is what makes Free Guy’s depiction of NPCs so much fun as Guy’s vision of this world and his life are changed after falling for a player character named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer).
Guy breaking free from this cycle is incredibly fun to watch. The way the game starts to turn on him, to the point where tanks threateningly point their cannons at him in a coffee shop, as he tries to break from his designed routine is really funny. His whole rant towards other NPCs about their behavior is perfect and it’s really fun to see him understand the game’s sunglasses that denotes player characters from NPCs as it opens up options for him to fight. Even with Guy having to understand all these new things, it’s great how he doesn’t lose that upbeat, positive personality that Reynolds brings with his usual charm.
In the face of any and every danger, Guy’s always got a smile on his face and the childlike wonder he has towards gaining a new understanding of the world makes him easily likeable. It’s especially awesome to see him channel that positivity into stepping up his game and being a force for good in an otherwise violent world. There’s something really inspirational about seeing him go against the grain to become his own heroic force and the impact he has on others in the virtual and real world is awesome to see. Also, Reynolds comes with his irresistible charm and comedic timing to make Guy an instantly loveable hero and the themes and messages that come from his personal arc are well done.
The lesson Guy learns from him coming to terms with this realization that this world is fake and that his life thus far has been out of his control is simple yet meaningful. The conversation he has with his security guard best friend Buddy (Lil Rey Howery) about what’s important is very wholesome with how Buddy talks about what makes life “real” and how even the seemingly smallest parts of life are what make it meaningful. It’s a great moment that showcases the little things mattering the most and inspires Guy to further break his mold and prove that anyone can be anything they want. When Free Guy sticks to its central Guy story, it can be a lot of fun.
When it doesn’t though, Free Guy turns into a congested mess with how much it tries to do. To say this film becomes convoluted in its second half would be a total understatement as its attempts to make its real-world story elements and characters impactful mostly fall flat. The romantic storyline between Molotov Girl’s human player, Millie, and her former partner Keys (Joe Keery) feels totally forced and unnecessarily consumes the main story – specifically the ending. The moments in Free City’s game studio are obnoxiously annoying and kind of feel outdated mostly because of its leader Antoine (Taika Waititi). Don’t get me wrong, toxic work environments are incredibly prevalent in the gaming industry as we’re seeing with Blizzard and Ubisoft, but it just feels hammed up in a way that doesn’t treat this legitimate issue with the kind of respect it deserves and honestly, just isn’t funny. Also, the whole dissection of the game and Guy becoming sentient is very overcomplicated and the stakes for Millie and Keys past project playing a role in Free City aren’t that high or meaningful. Pretty much everything without Reynolds on the screen is kind of boring and even some of the gaming nods lose its intrigue because of how generic their execution is.
There are definitely funny moments that come from Guy playing around with some recognizable weapons and even some Marvel stuff, mostly thanks to Disney buying Fox, that leads to a really fun, unexpected cameo that audiences will love. Even the introduction of an unfinished character is a lot of fun and the idea of having streamers act as newscasters is fun, but it all feels cheaply done at times. The whole streamers gag feels shoved in and overdone and while there is a really funny sequence that shows the real faces behind cool looking characters, it’s a joke that runs its course. Honestly, the jokes feel inconsistent at times and Reynolds takes on a lot of the comedic weight that his usual schtick can always maintain.
Free Guy offers audiences another solid Reynolds-led comedy adventure that has some good laughs and some fun takes on gaming culture, but it’s marred by inconsistent laughs and struggles to make use of its excellent premise because of congested storylines.