Let’s be honest right from the off: this writer loves Ryan Reynolds. Probably a little too deeply. The Proposal, Definitely Maybe, Blade Trinity-watching kind of deep. Also, a pair of my glasses are known as “The Reynolds” but I digress. So when word comes around of a new film starring this ridiculously talented man, there’s so much excitement – what’s doubly delightful is that his latest, Free Guy, may be one of the best of the year. Mind blown.
Reynolds plays Guy, a local bank clerk who enjoys his lowly existence in Free City with his buddy (Lil Rel Howery) when his heart skips a beat at a new girl in town (Comer) – but what Guy doesn’t know is that he is in fact a non-player character (NPC) in a game called Free City but may have more to his existence than even he knows or that the gaming community can comprehend. On the outside, the game’s publisher Antwan (Taika Waititi) is finalising his plans for its sequel – and a huge cash cow – which would replace its predecessor in its entirety.
The film has already garnered much praise from critics and audiences with comparisons with everything from The Truman Show, Wreck-It Ralph, and even Serenity – remember that? – highlighting its charm and unique approach to both its story and the world Guy inhabits. Of course, there are plenty of shudders and recoils at the thought of another “video game movie” as, frankly, their track record is like Tottenham Hotspur’s in major finals, suffice to say the tally in the “win” column is very, very slight. But while it isn’t exclusively based on one such game, Free Guy does everything right that those pretenders did wrong.
Embracing the culture rather than trying to cheapen it, it treats its players with as much care and precision as the developers themselves and superbly brings that never-equalled thrill and delight of diving deep into a world removed from our own, as director Shawn Levy and co take loving, biting pot-shots at the culture of live streaming, Twitch and the art of watching others play the games. And the prodding doesn’t stop there, oh no, as Hollywood and their new word-du-jour “IP”, as well as corporate greed and corruption (so, all the hits) gets just as much, if not more, of a raucous, rambunctious roasting.
But this is far, far more than a film put in a video game box (most of which we don’t want it’s far more than that (most of which we don’t want to spoil here) and sets the film apart from other big studio comedies of recent years. Bar the fact that it is extremely funny and takes risks where others have not, is that at its core is love and after the 18 months we have all had, we deserve a delightful and touching love story to help out hearts ascend from the mire of lockdowns, furloughs, and vaccines (get one, don’t be an idiot).
Key to this working is the trifecta of Reynolds, Comer, and Keery (the latter two both brilliant throughout), and while we won’t say too much about the intricacies, suffice it to say that when its When Harry Met Sally/New Years Eve moment presents itself, it’s (almost) as beautiful. Reynolds, as good as when he’s buried under the tighter-than-tight red suit, is infectiously charming as ever but there is more weight and emotional nuance to his turn here than many others in recent years and he revels in it, balancing out Taika Waititi’s whirlwind, Tasmanian Devil-Esque turn as Antwan that at times threatens to derail momentum but just about keeps itself on an even keel.
A smorgasbord of whimsy and joy, Levy’s film is certainly surprising but in the best possible way: it delights with its colour and energy, surprises with its inventiveness and biting, sharp edges, and gives us a truly wonderful, genuine love story at its heart. Also, there’s bubblegum ice cream, which we don’t talk about nearly enough. It truly is like your tongue has had a baby with a sunrise.
Action, Comedy | USA, 2020 | 12A | 13th August 2021 (UK) | Cinema | Searchlight Pictures | Dir.Shawn Levy | Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar