I don't normally like describing movies as cute and harmless, but Free Guy was very cute and harmless in the sense that it's full of likable characters facing familiar challenges. Think The LEGO Movie meets Ready Player One, only less memorable as you'll likely forget all about it come tomorrow morning.
Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds teams with director Shawn Levy and writers Zak Penn and Matt Lieberman for Free Guy, a movie about creativity and originality amongst established IP and franchises. Reynolds and friends attempt to add a dash of comedy and heart to a world full of corporate greed and the end result isn’t…bad, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking or Earth-shattering.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a NPC, which is a non-playable character in a video game that absolutely everybody is playing. What that means is that he’s not “real” in the sense that he’s a human being playing the game, but instead a piece of artificial intelligence that is slowly outgrowing the mold that was written for him in his code.
This makes things doubly interesting as game developers Millie (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery) are claiming the owner of this highly-popular game, Antoine (Taika Waititi), stole their code for an indie game that they were developing that allowed for the characters to grow and breathe into their own beings, while Antonine’s game essentially plays out like Grand Theft Auto, allowing players to come in and wreak havoc on everything and everyone.
Now, Millie is attempting to stop Antoine from launching his latest version of the game, which would blow away all of her and Keys’ code, which means no proof that would hold up in court. Meanwhile, Keys and another developer (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), are attempting to stop Guy from doing anymore damage inside the game.
Free Guy is very much The LEGO Movie meets Ready Player One. Reynolds’ overly-positive attitude and demeanor rivals that of Emmet from The LEGO Movie, while the film also attempts to stuff in as many video game references (and random cameos) as possible, which makes it feel very much like Ready Player One.
It also tries to comment on evil corporate greed taking over the world, blocking out those simply trying to make a game that means something to them and is beautiful in its own right, without trying to attach a dollar value to it.
But what Free Guy fails to do is inject its own unique brand of…well, anything.
Ryan Reynolds of course delivers on the charm and wit and banter in typical Reynolds fashion. What this essentially means is that we’ve got a cheery PG-13 version of Deadpool here, which is just an extension of Reynolds himself, only a bit less raunchy and a ton more positive.
And that’s fine, but it never really crosses the bridge from amusing to memorable and instead gets stuck revisiting the same jokes, with less and less appeal as the film progresses.
Where The LEGO Movie was bursting with creativity and color, Free Guy just sort of leans on the drab CGI explosions in the background and the inclusion of a brief cameo or two that are definitely funny, but never carry any weight.
Where Ready Player One showed us the sad and ugly truth of advertising, branding and wanting to “disconnect” from the real world to live in a fake one, Free Guy leverages such concepts to make for cheap laughs and warm fuzzy feelings.
That’s not to say that Free Guy is bad or not worthy of the laughs that it earns or the jokes that it delivers. I’d actually argue that Free Guy is just what the doctor ordered in terms of an end-of-summer laugh that doesn’t take itself too serious.
But while not taking itself seriously, it sort of robs itself of its own unique identity and instead becomes a lesser film when compared to the other films that I mentioned earlier.
It’s cute and fun and good for a laugh, but will quickly be forgotten once the credits roll and the lights come on.
It’s also incredibly awkward seeing a movie funded by Disney (technically, they absorbed Fox) commenting on originality and creativity and supporting indie developers and artists versus simple cash grabs and evil corporations that are all about franchises and IP. The mouse is clearly dominating the world box office and the movie industry at large and somehow Taika Waititi (a successful indie filmmaker that has translated to big-budget blockbusters for Marvel without a hiccup) is the bad guy, clearly representing the parent company as a CEO-like figure.
It just all feels very weird and disingenuous coming from a company that simply buys out their competition at a rapid rate. And that’s not to say Disney makes bad movies — I love Marvel movies and am no stranger to Star Wars, but c’mon, Disney is a business at the end of the day.
Is Ryan Reynolds‘ charm and sweet line delivery enough to warrant a ticket purchase? To some, the answer is undoubtably yes. To me, I’d say that your mileage may vary, depending on how much of Reynolds’ schtick you can handle and depending on if you want to see a movie that’s been done before and with much more craft.
Shawn Levy is no Steven Spielberg or even Phil Lord & Chris Miller, but he does a fine job bringing the cast together and presenting a film that doesn’t really ask its audience to think or feel or do much of anything aside from occasionally laugh and smile.
I can’t fault a movie for trying to make us laugh or smile in this day and age.