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Free Guy

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2021

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Movie Review - 'Free Guy'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 15, 2021 @ 2:30 p.m. PDT

In "Free Guy," a bank teller discovers that he's actually an NPC inside a brutal, open world video game.

When it comes to video game movies, it's safe to say that Hollywood doesn't have the best track record. Sure, there are a handful of greats, like the original "Mortal Kombat" and the occasional cult classic like "Super Mario Bros," but in general, there have been more misses than hits. Thankfully, "Free Guy" falls into the latter category.

Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, the titular character of the film, who also happens to be a video game character in Free City. As an NPC, Guy has been in the background his whole life. That's not unusual because it's literally what he was programmed to do. When he runs into Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer from "Killing Eve"), something changes, and Guy starts to ask if there is more to life than just going through the motions.

The sole reason that Molotovgirl, AKA Millie, is playing Free City in the first place, is because the developer ripped off her simulation game and is using the code to power Free City. The proof only exists in the virtual world of Free City. As a result, the story moves back and forth between the game world and the real world.


Free City's game world is visually distinct from the real world thanks to a more vibrant use of color. Everything "in game" is bright and bold. The visual effects overlays are color saturated and looked good even in the HD stream I watched for review. It's the kind of effect that would no doubt shine in HDR.

The most clear inspiration for Free City is Grand Theft Auto Online, but it's far from a clone. Free City may use the gameplay elements of GTA as a base, but you'll find bits of Saints Row, Far Cry, and other open-world franchises sprinkled throughout. The same is true of the various video game weapons that make an appearance. The Portal gun is the most obvious, but I also spotted Mega Man's Mega Buster, the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2, and Fortnite's llama.

References in "Free Guy" aren't as gratuitous as they were in "Ready Player One." Everything that's used here has a purpose, but more importantly, it's used in a way that makes sense. The cameos aren't just there to please the fanboy crowd.

Like the video game world, the story that drives the plot is inspired by a number of different movies that came before. You'll recognize elements of "Truman Show," "The LEGO Movie," and "TRON," among others, but none of it feels like a retread because the movie sets its own course from the start.


If there is an element that "Free Guy" could have done better, it would have been to spend more time on some of the toxicity that exists in gaming, both among players and among developers. The film touches on the idea, teases a bit as though it's going to make a point or drop some commentary, but it never commits. Yes, "Free Guy" is an action/comedy film. No, I'm not expecting every movie to have social commentary, but if you're going to address it, then go all in. Don't flirt with a point and then gloss over it. Either commit, or don't bring it up.

The real-world elements of "Free Guy" are all designed to keep the story moving forward, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Taika Waititi's role as Antwan, the despicable and completely over-the-top CEO who ripped off Millie's original game. Antwan was going to be an unlikable character no matter what, but Waititi's improvisation and comic timing elevate the role. Antwan isn't just a greedy idiot. He's also a narcissistic buffoon that everyone laughs at but has to obey because he's the boss.

Ultimately, it's obvious that a lot of care went into the making of "Free Guy," even if the story doesn't push any boundaries. The plot opts for safe fun over anything risky, while also celebrating games and the industry that makes them. It may not be a groundbreaking film, but it is fun and entertaining. Non-gamers may miss some of the many nods to gaming found within the movie, but they won't miss out on anything that is core to the story.


Extras

Whether you buy it on disc or via a streaming service, "Free Guy" comes with a handful of extras. There are three deleted/extended scenes, three trailers, a gag reel, and four featurettes. The deleted/extended scenes are without commentary or context, so there isn't a real draw there, but the featurettes provided an interesting, if brief, look behind the scenes.

"Dude vs. Guy" provides a look at how the director and special effects crew used cutting-edge technology to create the bigger/badder/better alter-ego of Guy for the movie. Instead of creating Dude digitally, they cast a bodybuilder (Aaron W. Reed) for the role and then mapped Ryan Reynolds's face onto him. To properly capture the performance and have it look natural, Reynolds had to perform inside a 360-degree camera rig called the Lola Egg.

"It's Taika's World" is basically a short feature on Waititi and his take on Antwan. He chats a bit about directing and acting, but the best part of this featurette are Waititi's outtakes. What's here is funnier than the official gag reel.

"Creating Molotovgirl" talks about the costumes and visuals of gaming, from the perspective of a costume designer, while "Welcome to Free City" offers a short look at how practical and CGI effects were mixed in a lot of the shots to bring Free City to life and make it feel like a video game.

Overall

Much like the film itself, none of the extras dig particularly deep, but if you decide to add "Free Guy" to your collection, they're worth the watch.

If you missed "Free Guy" in the theaters, picking up a copy for home is an easy recommendation. If you did catch it in the theaters, watching it at home is a great way to pick up on the Easter eggs in the background that you probably didn't see on the first time through.

Score: 8.0/10

"Free Guy" is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD disc, and various streaming services. The movie is 1 hour and 55 minutes long.



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