FREE GUY (2021) is a genuinely fun ride with a strong narrative and great characters

In Free Guy, step inside the world of Free City, a thriving video game where a bank teller NPC, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), discovers he’s just a small, insignificant part of a brutal open-world game. Determined to become the protagonist of his own life, he sets off on a thrilling journey of self-discovery.

Born from a creative concept, Free Guy had me worried it would become lost in out-of touch references and take itself a little too seriously to be fun, thus stumbling in its execution and not capitalising on its potential. To my surprise, it ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable adventure that was self-aware enough to poke fun at itself and capitalise on the video game setting, but also focused on implementing a core character-centric narrative (or two) that’s actually interesting to follow. Director Shawn Levy, along with writers Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, managed to craft this quite large-scale adventure within this world and concept which feels very real. Well, in saying it “feels very real”, it’s best not to think about the logistics of how everything works and just take it all as face-value entertainment.

One thing that’s executed really well is that there’s layers to the story, with a couple of key character-driven arcs all progressing at the same time, and all interconnected. There’s the in-game journey with Guy, where we meet a whole lot of cliche video game personalities and jokes run wild. Most of this content is really fun, with jokes every other minute and entertaining action sequences to get lost in. Then there’s the narrative in the real world, centred around Millie (Jodie Comer), Keys (Joe Keery) and the team of game developers that bring Free City to life. This content, like the in-game content, is also engaging because of the characters. The clever writing has you rooting for the protagonists (and strongly against the antagonist) from the very beginning, making is easy to get invested in their journeys and join them along the ride.

On top of the well-written characters and narrative, there’s a good deal of comedy strewn throughout. From video game references to Taika Waititi’s eccentricities and those signature one-liners from Ryan Reynolds, there’s a very upbeat tone as dictated by the breadth of comedy. Sure, there’s some misses, but for the most part the humour is one of the film’s biggest positives.

Ryan Reynolds leads this film will all the wit and charisma he can conjure up. He brilliantly carries the bulk of the comedy, emotion and heart of the story on his shoulders, and sells us on the fact that he’s an NPC in this video game really well. Not only does he excel on hit own, but he has great back and forth with those around him, such as Lil Rel Howery, who is also very funny across the majority of his scenes. Over in the real world, Jodie Comer and Joe Keery are strong leads, breathing life into their characters and helping to heighten the intrigue in their respective journeys. Stealing scenes out in the real world is Taika Waititi, playing the overly-charismatic and comically evil villain in a way that only he can. There aren’t really any characters or performers who are hard to watch, everyone plays their part well.

I also really want to highlight the special effects, because despite not being flawless, they’re not as loud as I feared they would be. Going into it, I was expecting tonnes of very glossy special effects that would take me out of the film. Rather, the majority of the visuals are quite impressive and very believable. There’s even moments where the visuals are pretty grand, which only goes to show that plenty of money went into making them the best they can be – and it paid off.

In the end, Free Guy is a very fun action/adventure comedy, packed full of solid humour, great action and a compelling narrative that is actually quite clever and engaging. Led by strong performances from Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery and Taika Waititi, there’s much to love about this adventure through a sprawling video game world. It’s not going to blow your socks off with its originality, but the fact that it’s appropriately self-aware helps it to be an entertaining ride. Plus, if you’re a fan of queen Mariah Carey, you’re certainly in for a treat.

7.2/10

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