in , , ,

Free Guy


‘…a lightweight and often romantic mix of Pinocchio, The Truman Show and Groundhog Day that benefits from a sunny disposition and a game, fresh cast….’

We’re going to have to find a different yardstick to judge a film’s success; Shawn Levy’s Free Guy might have expected to make twice what it did at the US box office, but how many streaming subscriptions did it sell for Disney? Who knows? A sequel is reportedly in the works, a frequent announcement by a studio trying to save face when a film stiffs (Green Lantern 2 anyone?), but in the case of Free Guy, the original film seems good enough to merit another go round. While I’m not particularly a fan of star Ryan Reynolds and his snarky charm, Free Guy is one of the better summer blockbusters of the last few years, a lightweight and often romantic mix of Pinocchio, The Truman Show and Groundhog Day that benefits from a sunny disposition and a game, fresh cast.

Guy (Reynolds) is a minor character in open world video game Free City, a bank-teller in a bank which is robbed by players a good 16 times a day. Something of a wall-flower, he encourages everyone to have a ‘great day’ but few of his friends are; they’re routinely shot, hit by cars, set on fire, and are generally bit part players in the multiple re-spawning lives of other, real players. But unknown to him, Guy is the world’s first artificial intelligence, the creation of coders Walter (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery) and Millie (Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer). Taking a leaf out of Grand Theft Auto’s book, and the Coke advert that borrowed from it, Guy starts to wow the world with acts of kindness rather than violence, which brings him into conflict with egocentric game boss Antwan (a lively Taika Waititi).

That’s quite a cast for a kids movie, with cameos from Tina Fey, Hugh Jackman, Channing Tatum and Chris Evans making sure that we never take proceedings too seriously. But even if Reynolds is a featherweight presence, he fits the profile of a meme who develops some kind of self-awareness, and Levy does well to bring a two level narrative to vibrant life. Guy never makes it out of the game, which is something of a narrative problem, but Levy manages to make the conclusion satisfying as Guy manages to escape Free City and strike a blow for the oppressed. You can see Guy’s struggle as a metaphor for drugs, unionism, adulthood, or almost anything really; Free Guy is really just an excuse for some fun, expensive looking sequences of Reynolds doing his movie-star thing.

It’s worth remembering that pre-pandemic, films like Solo and Justice League were hailed as instant flops with $100 million opening weekends; Free Guy was hailed as an industry-saving champ with a mediocre $26 million. But the path to a sequel should consider how good the original film was, and now that Free Guy has landed on on other home formats, it’s likely to find the audience who missed it in cinemas. As family comedies go, Free Guy has just enough juice to please all classes, and further adventures are desirable if they can bring this cast back. Making a good movie from a video game has been a Hollywood goal for decades; Free Guy is a good movie about video games, but fortunately you don’t need to play them to get the gag. The public may take longer to find it, but Free Guy’s goofy, crowd-pleasing game is worth playing more than once.


Leave a Reply
    • It’s a cameo, but any Jackman is better than nothing. This is a far better film than it looks!

  1. Hmm. I was really expecting you to roast this film, as it looked absolutely terrible to me from the trailer. The kind of movie I wouldn’t watch if you paid me. Now that you’ve spoken fairly well of it, my whole world is off-kilter….

    • Your reaction absolutely matches mine. I was thank you, nope, next….but actually the young kids love story is sweet, the CGi is fairly sparing, and in most years, it would be the pick of the summer blockbusters. Surprising!

  2. I was initially unsure about watching free guy. It is probably my own personal feelings about manufacturing an instant success from using old tropes, storylines and similar character development, while using popular actors to get the ratings instantly boosted naturally without the storyline.
    Plus, I feel like making this premise into more of a family film means that possible darker territory that this universe could hold isn’t explored to the extent that it could have been with a 12A rating.
    The pandemic has made a difference in the amount of ‘good cinema’ we expect and wish to have, but I shouldn’t judge too much before watching. I have gotten a sense from those who have commented, that I am not the only one who thought it would be unoriginal and uninspiring, though.

    I guess if I went into it with the casual viewer mindset then I would much prefer it. This review has definitely made me want to watch it and give it a bit more of a chance, though.

    • I reallu hated everything about this trailer, and not being a fan of Reynolds, was happy to skip it; my review is several months after it came out. And it’s not the film of the year, it does feel synthetically constructed from several other famous movies. But I think this will be a sleeper success on streaming, and is desnsely packed enough to have re-watch potential. If you think about how over-manufactured most summer films feel, this would be an exception to that rule. It thought I’d skip it altogether, but the ingredients are well enough mixed to recommend it.

  3. Great review and observations, as usual. But I thought this film felt like a beat-for-beat recreation of the original TRON – right up to the “battle with the big boss”. It has many of the same elements – a gamer whose IP was stolen, the gamer enters the game, the gamer enlists the support of an internal AI, the AI must play the game to return the IP to the original author, the villain is a power hungry captain-o-industry, and the AI wins the game and frees all the other “programs” to be their true selves. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

  4. Enjoyed it far more than I expected. Reynolds was far less snarky than usual and it was just a modern fairy story. There is always another way to measure box office – whether a film has “legs” or not – is it burned out after the first couple of weeks or is a) the box office percentage drop off relatively minor or b) does it continue to score for several weeks. Tick both for Free Guy.

    • Agreed, even in reduced circumstances, it had legs; my gripe is that is was hailed as a storming success long before there legs were apparent. In any normal summer, this would be looking at $170 million in the US alone.

  5. Enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Though found that anytime Reynolds wasn’t on screen the movie noticeably dipped particularly in the last quarter. Good special effects, a gung-ho cast and knowing references to video games helped things move along nicely. Did feel a bit bashed over the head with that Mariah Carey track though… it became seriously grating.

    • Totally agree about Fantasy, they overdid that one, but some of the other music cues, Make You Own Kind of Music, Humpty Dance, Believe it Or Not and so on were well enough chosen. But what is it with Ryan Reynolds and AOR music played over slow-mo action? It’s one of the overused tropes of today’s blockbusters…

      • Completely agree about the AOR trope… It’s distracting and also disrupts the rhythm of the film by dragging you out of it.

  6. This was definitely a film where you had to turn your brain off and just enjoy the fun gags it had in store. I found that when you try to delve deeper into its themes and the actual implications of what the film was trying to say, the whole thing kind of falls apart, especially when you get into the ethical implications of the AI that makes up guy and the other characters and how that they’re self-aware.

    I definitely felt like the film was starting to make an argument about how using such technology for what essentially is Grand Theft Auto is inappropriate, but they dropped it in favor of dumb fun. It’s like the writers put their toes in the water of that very muddy debate and promptly said “no thank you,” which I get, but I can’t ignore the fact that the goals of the “real-life” protagonists and antagonists are essentially the same — sell Guy and his world to the public for money — just one is nicer.

    Still, it really is the closest thing to a traditional summer blockbuster we got. To your point about how the studio could justify it by it selling (x) number of Disney Plus subscriptions, it’s a brave new world, and it’ll be interesting to see which streaming/theater/hybrid models stick and which ones fail. Hopefully the ones that stick will give studios a lot more flexibility to takes risks in terms of content like Netflix, Hulu and other platforms have been able to take thus far.

    • I never understood the rush to streaming. Theatrical release had always been the guide to the long tail of future revenue. Used to be the big three networks in the US paid up for screen rights according to their box office. And bear in mind films were leased for a few years not bought outright. Then there was cable/DVD etc. Often box office only accounted for 20% of a movie’s lifetime revenue. So I fail to see the point of instant streaming. Why throw away the long tail in favour of the quick release? Even now I can’t see why studios have pushed for a 45-day box office window instead of 90 days. There was never anything wrong in the past in making the public wait. I get that streaming share price is important and subscriptions but I can’t really see people rushing to sign up on the basis of a couple of good new movies. Sky found that out when it started and quickly switched to a sports-driven model.

      • The sharing of theatrical revenues is a sore point; the shorthand that if US take overtook budget, it was a hit doesn’t really apply when you have to take on board various streaming milestones which are rarely decalred to the public. My guess is Disney will cut this instant release malarkey out, as will Warners, if and when the body of the cinema audience return, but although opening weekends seem to be recovering, we’re playing with a radically reduced set of income streams.

    • I can remember the ol’ VHS days. It took FOREVER for a flick to hit tape. I remember the huge deal when Heavy Metal and Star Wars, hit tape.

      Studios need to let a film, breathe. In such a rush. . . .

    • I had a real lack of enthusiasm, but was surprised how breezy the result was. Not typical fare at all, with a nice romance at the centre of it and a restrained finale for a summer tentpole. Worth a rental.

Leave a Reply