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.