I’ve spent countless hours playing video and computer games and watching my kids master the hugely popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game Fortnite. But Fortnite isn’t just a game where players wander around shooting each other. It’s built upon an internal economy of clothes, costumes, accessories, and signature dance moves: players pay real money to acquire digital outfits and wacky weapons that let them complete their mission in style. Killed someone? Bust a move with your signature dance. Games like Fortnite aren’t just player-v-player, though, because there are also non-player characters (NPCs) in the gaming universe that can safely be shot, run over, punched, or completely ignored.
The witty and kinetic Free Guy stars the ever-likable Ryan Reynolds as Guy, an NPC who lives in “Free City”. Except Free City is a violent and aggressive simulated world where robberies, murder, and general mayhem are so common that the cops just repeat their catchphrases and wave at the criminals. Guy works as a teller at Free City Bank. They get robbed a couple of times every day. No big deal. His best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) is the security guard at the bank, and Buddy never challenges the robbers.
Free City is divided into two categories of people; “sunglasses” are people with free will, the actual human players for whom the world exists, and everyone else, the NPCs that comprise Guy’s life and world. Except Guy has been dreaming about a woman, and one day he glimpses her out the bank window. He rips a pair of glasses off a robber and is shocked to have them reveal missions, show point values of people and places, and much more, all in flashing neon overlays reminiscent of Ready Player One. With sunglasses Guy can see the game, not just be an NPC within it.
Guy catches up with his dream gal, Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), and gets pulled into her mission. Similar to the epiphany Neo (Keanu Reeves) has in The Matrix when he realizes that he can see the simulation he’s trapped within, Guy’s worldview has changed completely once he dons those glasses and realizes he’s a pre-scripted player in the game. Does he have free will? Can he make decisions independent of the code that drives him? Rather existential questions for a frenetic video-game movie, but veteran comedy director Shawn Levy knows better than to dwell on that.
Instead, the movie rockets along as we learn that game developers Keys (Joe Keery) and Millie (Jodie Comer in her non-Free City identity) had created a self-aware AI system for a game of their own that was purchased and then canceled by Free City’s bratty CEO Antoine (Taika Waititi). If you’ve seen the hilarious AppleTV+ series Mythic Quest, you’ll recognize Antoine’s type immediately. Meanwhile, Millie is convinced that their code is being used within Free City, but she has no proof. Keys is in a tough spot because he actually works for Free City’s development company, Soonami.
Guy gradually learns the story from Molotov Girl as they have adventures and he levels up by – shockingly! – being nice to people and creating a cult following as Blue Shirt Guy. He decides to help her with her quest to find the hidden code, even as Antoine rages at everyone on his development team: Free City II is poised to launch and it has to be bigger, better, and more profitable!
There are lots of memorable characters and the visuals are eye-popping, absolutely fantastic. Even better than Ready Player One, Free Guy shows just how immersive visual effects can be with a big budget and some of the best VFX companies working together. Gamers will adore Free City and recognize so much of the RPG video and computer gaming world in the film. If that’s not enough, major celebrities have hilarious cameos and real-life Twitch streamers show up in the film as commentators too, including Jacksepticeye, Ninja, Pokimane, DanTDM, and LazarBeam.
Reynolds is also perfect as Guy, a bit of an innocent caught up in a wild world that’s way more than he can comprehend. His sly humor and deadpan delivery work really well to create a character who is the heart of this delightful sci-fi action film. Highly recommended, Free Guy is great fun. Go see it, and drag your kids away from their Fortnite screens to watch it with you.
A Dad At The Movies Note: This is the rare film that really is suitable for the whole family, and even the little ones will be entranced by the kinetic energy of the visual effects. No bad language, cartoon violence, it’s one they’ll love, even if they miss the nuances of the storyline itself.