If you went to the movies in the few months before the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, or have gone in the last few months since theaters have opened back up, chances are you’ve seen the trailer for Free Guy. As someone who frequents theaters, I feel like I’ve seen the trailer about 25 times. After three delays times, I was beginning to wonder whether this was even a real movie. Well it turns out that it certainly is real and it’s actually kind of good. Like, surprisingly good.
It’s such a surprise because Ryan Reynolds, who stars as the titular Guy, has a track record of basically playing himself in so-so action comedies. Between Deadpool, The Hitman’s Body Guard, Detective Pikachu, Hobbs & Shaw, and even The Change-Up, Reynolds plays a variation on the same type of sarcastic, funny guy. It usually works well for jokes, but apart from Deadpool, none of those movies really do anything special or interesting with his brand of humor.
But that’s where Free Guy is different. It follows Guy, who’s an NPC (non-player character) in a video game. He does the same thing every day — wake up in his nice apartment in Free City, greet his gold fish, eat breakfast, order the same thing at the same coffee shop, and walk to work at the bank with his friend Buddy (Lil Red Howrey). On his way, he sees lots of violence and death, but is phased by none of it. That’s because this is what his world is. you grow to accept it when you live in what is basically Grand Theft Auto V. One day, he meets Millie (Jodie Comer), who’s one of the heroes of the game. She and the other heroes are able to make their own choices and save Free City from the bad guys. Meeting Millie opens up Guy’s eyes to the possibilities of the world. He’s no longer satisfied to do the same exact thing every day of his life.
From there, we get what is basically a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that draws in parts from The Truman Show, The Lego Movie, and Dead Poets Society. The comparisons to The Truman Show should be pretty obvious — someone who’s happy to basically repeat the same day over and over until one day, they’re not anymore due to an extenuating circumstance. Whereas Truman is living in a television show, Guy is living in a video game. The people around them try to say everything is fine, but they have some kind of feeling that tells them it’s not.
The Lego Movie inspiration is similar. Emmet and Guy are comparable in that they wear the same exact clothes every day because that’s just what they know. They like their life and they like the world around them even though they don’t realize at first what could be improved about it. Finally, their eyes are opened to a world of choice and possibility and they never look back. Free Guy is no Lego Movie, but I like the similarities between the two.
But where Free Guy is like The Lego Movie in a great way is in its humor. With the more tame PG-13 rating, Reynolds still gets to Reynolds, but it’s a bit different than his shtick as Deadpool. There’s an innocence and approachability to him. There’s a desire to learn and to have his eyes opened. It’s a fun side to see as he works within this framework. And, unsurprisingly, Taika Waititi as the main villain Antoine steals every scene he’s in. Not many people do comedy better than Waititi and letting him go off the rails like this is inspired. In Thor, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, and Jojo Rabbit, he’s hilarious, but it’s within a certain constraint that each character brings. Here, he’s allowed to run free and let his chaotic energy take control.
Where the movie misses the mark the tiniest bit is in its love stories. There are two — one in the game world between Millie and Guy and one in the real world between Millie and her real life ex, Keys (Joe Keery). Both are sweet enough and you root for the characters, but they don’t provide anything particularly revolutionary.
The lack of anything new is ultimately what keeps Free Guy from going from “really good” to “great.” I bet you’re wondering why I never explained how it’s any part Dead Poets Society. Well, that’s because the film’s ultimate message is much the same as the Robin Williams classic. It never straight out says “carpe diem” or “seize the day,” but that’s what you’ll leave the theater thinking. It’s a wonderful little message placed in a nice little action comedy that makes it the biggest, best surprise of the year so far.