Free Guy Review: The Video Game Movie We Deserve

  • First Released Aug 13, 2021
  • movie

One of the best video game movies in recent years isn't an adaptation of a beloved title. Instead, it's an original idea.

It's already been a pretty good year for video game movies, thanks to the release of Mortal Kombat back in April, which brought the iconic franchise to bloody life--hopefully, kicking off a new series of films. Free Guy is a different kind of video game movie, though. While clearly influenced by open-world games like Grand Theft Auto V, and the world of gaming itself, this isn't an adaptation of a popular title.

Instead, Free Guy uses video game settings and tropes to tell an original story about someone finding their own power after a lifetime of powerlessness. It also happens to be very funny, is stuffed with some utterly ridiculous action, and features a host of good performances, including one that's truly iconic.

The story follows Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a bank employee who doesn't realize he is nothing more than a non-player character (NPC) inside of a GTA-like game called Free City. He has the perfect NPC life, totally oblivious to the masses of human players committing heinous acts around him, until he comes into possession of a pair of player sunglasses that show him everything that's really happening in his world. After seeing what's really going on, he starts a journey to become a hero himself, racing to save his world before the game's developers shut Free City down.

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It should come as no surprise that Reynolds shines in this role. As the hilarious Guy, his naivete throughout the movie is wonderfully charming, even as he discovers just how powerful he can be (and how ridiculous the things you can do in Free City are). That he can drive a motorcycle out the window of a mountaintop compound and fly off the side of said mountain, only to then be dazzled by something as simple as bubble gum-flavored ice cream, is Guy in a nutshell. He's capable of amazing things and is perfectly pleased with the norm.

On the opposite end is, easily, the best performance in the film. Thor: Love and Thunder director Taika Waititi steps in front of the camera to play the movie's real-world villain, game developer Antwan. He wears expensive and ludicrous clothes, speaks almost exclusively in gibberish slang, is horribly mean to all of his employees, and views himself as the greatest genius gaming has ever known. While Antwan is so easy to hate, the chaotic energy Waititi infuses into the role makes it hard to look away because you just know he's about to make a fool of himself, yet again.

While they don't technically exist together--Guy in the game, Antwan in the real world--the venomous hatred the game developer has for the NPC is palpable and gut-bustingly funny as he spins further and further out of control the more powerful Guy becomes.

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Jodie Comer, in the roles of programmer Millie and her Free City avatar Molotov Girl, is also a fantastic addition to the film. As Millie, she's trying desperately to right a wrong, while changing the future of video games. As Molotov Girl, though, she becomes not only Guy's most trusted ally but the person showing him the ropes of the game within his own world. The two make a formidable team as they try to not only save the world of Free City but stop Antwan's meddling outside of the game.

The supporting cast more than does their part, especially Lil Rel Howery as Buddy, Guy's fellow NPC and best friend. Beyond making their mundane lives hilarious to watch, Buddy is a surprisingly emotional component of the story. Unlike Guy, he was content with their lives as they were. As his best friend goes on his action hero journey, his programming doesn't allow for him to fully understand and embrace the changes, leading to a couple of very sad moments.

Then there's Stranger Things star Joe Keery and Utkarsh Ambudkar as game programmers Keys and Mouser, respectively. This duo is torn between working for Antwan and, honestly, seeing how horrible he is. Watching them navigate their place of employment is ultimately sad, even if they get to have fun goofing around inside of the game.

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What surrounds this cast is a better video game movie than most actual video game adaptations. Free Guy really captures the quirks of gaming--and it's loaded with them. While the story is unfolding, the background is littered with people doing emote dances, lagging and running into walls, tea-bagging their fallen opponents, and causing an utterly ridiculous amount of chaos. If you've ever logged into Grand Theft Auto Online, you should have some idea what the shenanigans happening throughout the world of Free City are like and they never cease being entertaining.

Those shenanigans are also massive. The action in Free Guy rarely slows down, unless it's for the aforementioned bubble gum-flavored ice cream. And the quieter moments we do get are a nice bit of relaxation before moving onto the next gigantic set-piece. Best of all, the action looks incredible. The visual effects in the movie are terrific and wildly over-the-top. There is no end to the explosions, car chases, and utter insanity being unleashed throughout Free City, while the citizens who live there are none the wiser.

There is one thing about Free Guy that wears a bit thin, though: the seemingly endless parade of real-life gamers and streamers that pop up as themselves in cameo roles. As Guy gains experience and power within the game, the real world begins taking notice, and suddenly you're seeing faces like Ninja and LazarBeam comment about it on their streams. If this happened once or twice it would have worked much better. As the movie progresses, though, it happens enough to become a distraction. It winds up feeling like a lesser version of the climax of The Truman Show.

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In all, Free Guy tells an inspiring story of someone trying to figure out who they truly are in a world they feel estranged from. It just so happens that this story is disguised as a very entertaining blockbuster action film set within the world of a video game. The cast is fantastic, the action is better than you could have hoped for, and at the end, chances are you'll be dying to find out when the next installment will be. While the streamer cameos stick out like a sore thumb, they cannot topple just how enjoyable this movie is and will continue to be upon rewatch.

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The Good

  • The cast is fantastic, especially Taika Waititi as Antwan
  • Guy's story is an inspiring one
  • The nods to games and game culture are hilarious
  • The action and visual effects are top-notch
  • It's such a funny movie that should be easily rewatchable

The Bad

  • The unending parade of gamer and streamer cameos felt very out of place

About the Author

Chris E. Hayner is an entertainment editor at GameSpot. He loves all movies, but especially Jaws and Paddington 2. He watched Free Guy at a media screening provided by 20th Century Studios.