Detective Pikachu was one of the better video game-related movies and Wreck-It Ralph is still the best. So, it only makes sense that Ryan Reynolds and Disney (via 20th Century Studios) would collaborate on another movie that gets gaming right. While gamers will appreciate the numerous references and cameos in Shawn Levy’s Free Guy, the film isn’t purely for a generation raised on Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto. Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn’s clever screenplay possesses echoes of They Live and The Truman Show. Behind all the in-jokes, the story contains real-world commentary about artificial intelligence and everything wrong with video game publishing. At its core is a charming love story, making for one of the best romantic comedies in some time.
Reynolds plays a guy named Guy for the second time, the first naturally being The Croods. He’s like a puppy who merged with Buddy the Elf, resulting in a hero impossible to dislike. Of course, Guy isn’t intended to be a protagonist. He’s merely a background character in a video game called Free City. Every day, Guy greets his pet fish hello, goes to work at the bank, and gets robbed. All the car thefts, shootouts, and explosions he encounters along the way are like elevator music. Guy is compelled to stray from his routine after crossing paths with a femme fatale who goes by (Molotov Girl), who looks like a cross between Lara Croft and Bayonetta.
Jodie Comer plays Molotov Girl and her real-world counterpart, a game designer named Millie. Comer has demonstrated impeccable range on Killing Eve, balancing dark comedy with drama. She continues to branch out in Free Guy, essentially playing two characters. Comer has little trouble slipping into Molotov’s badass boots, but she’s just as convincing as the practical, slightly insecure Millie. Comer not only seamlessly transitions between characters, but British and American accents as well. The Academy will likely never embrace this kind of performance, but Comer demonstrates why comedy can be just as layered as drama.
The relationship that develops between Guy and Millie is reminiscent of Her. Unlike Samantha, Guy isn’t just a disembodied voice, but the leads are still separated by a screen. It makes for a humorous yet also bittersweet romance that builds to a fitting resolution. The film belongs to Reynolds and Comer, but as Guy proves, there are no small parts. Lil Rel Howery goes from playing the best friend in Get Out to shining as another buddy here. Joe Keery plays a developer with a thing for Millie, although it’s another Stranger Things actor who steals the show. Then just when you thought Hitler would be Taika Waititi’s most over-the-top role, he storms onto the scene as a villainous publisher named Antwan. Waititi improvised a fair deal of his lines, and one can only hope a compilation of his cut material exists.
For most modern comedies, a PG-13 rating is a sign of death. While an R-rated director’s cut would be appreciated, Free Guy manages to be consistently funny without relying on f-bombs and graphic violence. In a way, the cleaner rating suits its central character, who seeks to clean his streets of guns and grenades. In the most pleasant surprise of all, there’s a message here about online communities being excellent to one another. It probably won’t eradicate trolls from gaming. If there’s one movie that can inspire gamers to be more civil, though, it’s Free Guy.