It’s mid-August, the summer blockbuster season is still hanging in there, and after a few weeks of instantly recognisable (branded) movies such as Black Widow, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, and Jungle Cruise, this week sees the release of a high-profile, original movie. The film is Free Guy – a sci-fi, action-comedy from director Shawn Levy.
Free Guy tells the story of a bank teller, called ‘Blue Shirt Guy’, who unbeknown to him, exists as a non-playable character in a video game called Free City. Although Guy goes through pretty much the same scenarios, day in, day out, he is mostly content and fulfils the role he has been assigned.
But one day, Guy finds himself attracted to a mysterious woman, which creates a variation in his usual routine. More variations soon follow, and it’s not long before Guy discovers that he is an artificially created character in an online world.
Although this revelation might seem like a wonderous discovery, as he is now self-aware, Guy quickly finds out that becoming more human has its downsides. Free City is set to be deleted, which means Guy’s new-found chance at life is going to be short-lived.
In order to remain online, Guy has to step out of his comfort zone to become the hero of the open world adventure he lives in. But can he save himself and his fellow pixels from deletion, before it is too late?
As Free Guy is not based on an existing property, the studio behind this movie (20th Century Studios – a subsidiary of Disney) is banking on the film’s big star to draw in the punters. The big star is Ryan Reynolds, who plays the film’s title character.
Reynolds is who this movie is marketed around, and that means it largely lives or dies on how good he is. Thankfully, he’s very good, and brings a real warmth to the lead character, as well as the story as a whole.
Sure, at times he veers into typical Reynolds material, with the odd deviation into Deadpool territory too, but who really has an issue with this? If you like Reynolds, then with this movie you get the typical Reynolds schtick in spades, and if you’re not a fan of the actor, then this movie probably isn’t for you anyway.
For those in the former category, who will be into this, you should know that Free Guy is a slick production, crammed to the rafters with action, a number of well-placed cameos, a heartfelt story, and plenty of jokes. Not every gag lands, but most of them do, and there are a couple which will result in pure belly laughs – particularly towards the climax of the movie.
Reynolds dishes out most of the jovial material, and really is the big selling point here, but plenty of solid one-liners come from fellow actor, Taika Waititi, who has a ball playing the movie’s unscrupulous villain. Waititi revels in the opportunity to bring menace to the screen, playing a scumbag CEO of a software giant, and he is a lot of fun to watch.
But it’s not just the actors who bring something to the table. At the centre of this movie is a story about free will, and about one person altering their perspective to help change the world.
The message is mixed in with lots of flashy graphics, countless explosions, and everything in between, but it never gets lost in the hustle and bustle, and remains the centre point for the entire picture.
When I watched the trailer for Free Guy, I was expecting a bit of a dog’s dinner, with everything but the kitchen sink thrown at the screen. That’s not what this is about at all, and that made for a pleasant surprise.
For me, Free Guy is well pitched, and equally well-executed. It understands the audience it wants to attract and plays to those strengths.
In the UK, Free Guy carries a certificate ’12A’ which means it is suitable for ages 12 or over, or can be watched by younger audiences, so long as they are accompanied by an adult. A ‘12A’ is exactly the correct certificate for this movie, because in terms of its content and tone it is perfectly suited for the teen market, while still containing enough gags for the mums and dads to enjoy too.
There is nothing in this film that is particularly offensive, except maybe a little humour directed towards stereotypical nerds, but the general vibe is positive. The soundtrack is filled with pop songs, the meta-references are well balanced (nothing like the mess that we saw in Space Jam: A New Legacy), and the whole thing feels like a good mix of The Truman Show (1998) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012), with a heavy dash of Pixels (2015), and the odd nod to They Live (1988).
Due to the ongoing issues related to the pandemic, most of the big blockbusters of 2021 are struggling to make back their money right now, and with Free Guy being exclusive to cinemas and opening while the Delta variant is rising in the US, I fear this $125 million movie will hit a huge deficit – but I hope this isn’t the case. I liked Free Guy and I feel it deserves better than the box office I expect it will achieve because of current circumstances.
Is the film the most amazing piece of cinema? No, and it’s certainly not the most original, but it is good and sometimes that is all you need. Free Guy is exactly what a fun summer blockbuster should be, with the correct mix of heart and humour, as well as enough action to keep the entertainment level up between mouthfuls of popcorn.