How did your day go? Did you wake up, get out of bed, have some food, do some work, eat more food, do more work, eat even more food, engage in some mindless entertainment, and then go to bed? Does it seem like this is all that your life is? Maybe there’s a variation in there where you meet some friends, take part in a social activity, or play with your family, but there is a point where life starts to look the same everyday while the people you see around you seem to be living better lives, freer lives, super lives. Depending on your knowledge of or acceptance of certain philosophies, you might think that your life is nothing more than a computer program that someone is observing or manipulating. That everyone and everything you meet is a non-playable character (NPC) and that everything you experience is programmed to fit your specific narrative controlled by a machine your body is hooked up to. This belief is called Simulation Theory and it’s not even the wildest thing that director Shaun Levy’s (Real Steel) Free Guy explores in his life-affirming, hilarious, and action-packed comedy.
If you’re looking for spoiler-free thoughts on Free Guy, head over to the theatrical release review. Hit save and exit the program if you’re not interested in having some surprises ruined because what follows could potentially ruin a first-time experience.
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a bank teller at Free City who’s tired of the sameness of everyday. He wants to drink more than a coffee with two sugars, wants more than walks with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howrey), and he wants more than the daily bank robberies, nut-shots, and seemingly endless violence that make up his day-to-day from the Sunglasses People running unabated throughout Free City. Enter Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), a give-no-shits/take-no-prisoners sunglasses-wearing badass who just so happens to sing Guy’s favorite song, “Fantasy” by Mariah Carrey. In chatting with her, Guy not only learns that there’s an entire world sitting on top of Free City beyond his regular perception — something fixed when he wears the sunglasses the Sunglass People do — but that his entire world is a fabrication, a collection of 1s and 0s that is headed for deletion unless Guy can help Molotov find a secret that’s been buried somewhere in the code. With time ticking away and reality on the brink, Guy’s going to have to do more than free himself, he’ll have to free the entire city.
If you were to summarize Free Guy into movie references, it would be Tron (1982) meets They Live (1988) with a dash of The Truman Show (1998). This would imply a certain level of unoriginality, yet the script from Matt Lieberman (Scoob!) and Zak Penn (Marvel’s The Avengers) does more than borrow the surface components of the aforementioned films, they dig into their respective ideas to create something which not only stands on its own but pushes an open audience to look deeper into themselves. For the unaware, Tron is a film in which a game maker is accidentally digitized into his own computer system, engaging with anthropomorphic programs who call him User, as they are aware of their existence as workers within a larger system. They Live centers on a man, Nada, who realizes that the world he knows is run by an alien race who have subjugated the population via subliminal messaging which can only be recognized by wearing special sunglasses. In Truman, the central character spends his entire life as the star of a television program, totally unaware that he’s being observed by the entire world. Again, these are cursory descriptions, but they align slightly with what Free Guy does, except Guy takes it further than these with Guy going on not just a journey of self, but taking all the other NPCs with him and, in the process, creating a groupthink shift about how the players engage with the world at large. See, Lieberman and Penn concocted a script which uses the world of gaming, a notoriously horrible place, especially in the kind of first-person or third-person shooters Free Guy openly demonizes, to consider what if we didn’t use the internet to bring out the worst in ourselves, but the best? Guy is both the result of his programming and his own will. Through the story, we realize that Guy develops free will and his own moral code, which slowly seeps into the outside world. This is but one of many parts of Free Guy that makes it exceptional, none being so great as the fact that there is no major battle to determine a winner, but a conversation and an act of faith between friends. With so many action films devolving to the standard CG slugfest, it’s refreshing to have a film so focused on positivity and protection (not necessarily non-violence) maintain that through the end. It certainly helps that Ryan Reynolds leads the film is an air of unending positivity. From anyone else, it might feel saccharine or put-on, but the actor’s genuine kindness radiates through the performance.
If Free Guy were an empty shell of a film, a cinematic version of the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme it would be totally disposable. Instead, the film is not only populated by actual gamers, but the language of the few Free City players we see is on point, as are their in-game antics (why is tea-bagging still a thing?). Granted I’m not sure if surprise voice-actors Dwayne Johnson or Hugh Jackman (among others) play games themselves, but even their inclusion comes across as less of cash-grab gaga and more like when a friend jumps in on a game you’re playing. (I have young kids, so gaming is hard to find time for, but the days of Halo: Reach aren’t so far behind me that I don’t smile at the thought of a rocket match.) By the way, the big battle that Guy does engage in, the one the Internet got snarky over for its inclusion of a variety of Walt Disney-owned properties, can be written off as trying to use clout of other properties in order to make a moment happen. I get it. Except for that fact that I can reach over and grab my OG Xbox copy of Soul Calibur 2 that I bought so I could play as Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. I can also load up my Xbox 360 and give my avatar a slew of gaming or movie related paraphernalia, so the argument that it made no sense in the moment and was merely a means of empty intertextuality is poppycock. Heck, I don’t play Fortnite and I know that series is riddled with pop culture references, so I would encourage everyone to perhaps reconsider whether the moment is truly a cinema-ruining moment or if they just struggle with whether their pop culture overlaps. I could quite literally go on about Free Guy and why I find it a refreshing aperitif, filling me with inspiring energy rather than draining me entirely upon completion.
And now it’s on home video! So what’s under the hood with the home release?
There are a total of three deleted/extended sequences, one gag reel, and four lengthy featurettes that will let you go deep into the creation of the film. For the tech nerds, you’ll enjoy “Dude vs Guy” where you get to see how the stunt team prepared for the showdown, learn how bodybuilder-turned-actor Aaron Reed got involved, and, most interestingly, see how they used a new process to place Ryan’s face over Aaron’s body using the Lola Egg. Do keep in mind that there’s a two-minute featurette on just the Lola Egg in the Movies Anywhere edition, but this entire featurette is also part of the longer “Dude vs Guy” segment. In the same way that you’ll learn how they used new tech to mesh the real world with the imaginary, “Welcome to Free City” will show you just how much of what was on screen was really there. Part of what I dig about this film is just how realistic it looks, using practical effects as much as possible and CG where they needed it to look a little more game-like. In a nice change of pace, there’s no specific focus on Reynolds and his work on the film, instead “Welcome” and “Dude” are mostly driven by Levy, other crew members, and the rest of the cast. It’s not that he has nothing to contribute, he’s just not the focus. Similarly, only Comer and Taika Waititi are given their own featurettes, inviting audiences to learn how their respective characters were constructed, as well as their respective approaches to making their characters come to life. For example, Comer worked extensively with the stunt team so she could do as many stunts as possible and Waititi, a known improv fan, heralds the script as the source of inspiration for where his brain takes things. Both are extremely humble and engaging as they discuss how they came to and worked on the film.
Out of a current total of 52 favorite films in 2021, Free Guy comfortably rests at #19. It’s a film I couldn’t wait to revisit when I left the theater and, upon a rewatch, I’ve realized that there’s still so much to find. So once you’ve made your way through the film once, please do go back and take a look around while in Free City. You might notice a glitch or two to give you a nice giggle or actually read the hilarious signs adorning many of the businesses (beware scammers or next-day sales when every day is the same). That the film could be so visually and philosophically rich while also being entertaining as hell is truly unfair in a lot of ways. Kinda like Ryan Reynolds himself, Free Guy just seems to have it all. And now, you can, too. So what’ll it be? Are you going to have a good day? Or a great one? The choice is yours.
Free Guy Special Features
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Guy and Buddy Hit the Beach (1:07)
- Hot Nuts Gets Blown (0:20)
- NPC Rally (Extended) (4:08)
- Gag Reel (4:48)
- Dude vs Guy (15:55) – Join Ryan Reynolds, director Shawn Levy and the creative and stunt teams as they reveal the innovative process of creating Free Guy’s ultimate showdown between Guy and the wildly amped-up, spray-tanned, frosted-tipped version of himself known as Dude.
- Creating Molotovgirl (7:06) – Jodie Comer transforms from a brilliant programmer to her fierce avatar in Free Guy. Watch as the award-winning action star and filmmakers deconstruct the conceptualization, evolution and execution of bringing Molotovgirl to life.
- It’s Taika’s World (8:34) – Free Guy’s outrageous action may exist in a virtual world, but Taika Waititi makes the real world just as crazy with the over-the-top Antwan. See him at work in this entertaining showcase of a genuinely talented and hilarious performer.
- Welcome to Free City (15:13) – Delve into the reality-skewing universe that is Free City, as revealed by director Shawn Levy, the cast, and its inventive creative teams. Find out how they transformed a real metropolis into a virtual playground where anything is possible
- Inside the Lola Egg (2:01) **Movies Anywhere Only**
Available on digital September 28th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD October 12th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Free Guy website.