‘Free Guy’ Movie Review: Ryan Reynolds Has Tronal Recall

Free Guy is a well done, original high concept movie. It’s Tron for the Xbox generation with the existential questions of Total Recall and The Matrix. It’s a love letter to video games, but one that believes the players can expect more and demand more, both from games, from each other and from life. It’s also a perfect vehicle for Ryan Reynolds‘ comedy.

Ryan Reynolds holds his hand up in Free Guy
Ryan Reynolds | 20th Century Studios

Ryan Reynolds IS ‘Free Guy’

Guy (Reynolds) is a nonplayable character in the game Free City. Free City is an open world multiplayer with seemingly as much violence as Grand Theft Auto, but perhaps a little less graphic. The players stand out because they wear sunglasses. Guy has been toying with deviating from the program for a while but when he finally gets a pair of sunglasses, he tries to change the game for the better. 

Ryan Reynolds meets Jodie Comer in Free Guy
Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds | 20th Century Studios

Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) is a player who’s looking for proof inside the game that the creator (Taika Waititi) of Free City stole her code. In real life she’s Milly and Guy will help her just because he’s nice. Inside the game, the world of Free City appears as live-action. When the film cuts to players in the real world, their screens show a more animated iteration of Free City

Director Shawn Levy establishes the parameters of the game and the real world clearly. You always know where you are, and how one impacts the other. There are players interacting with Guy, who becomes famous as Blue Shirt Guy, and also techs in the office (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery) trying to debug him. It’s maybe not as intense as Neo getting pummeled in the matrix, but it’s clear what’s happening on all levels of Free Guy

Free Guy: Jodie Comer and Joe Keery watch a computer screen
Jodie Comer and Joe Keery | Alan Markfield/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The message of ‘Free Guy’

Yes, Free Guy is a fun satire of what a NPC might think of real humans. But, underneath, it’s really a call to action. What if we all stopped being NPCs in our lives, and more importantly, what if we all stopped being toxic players? Just because a game lets us kill people and blow things up doesn’t mean we have to. 

And it’s not saying there should be no Call of Duty or GTA games, either. The movie is challenging all players not to limit themselves, because the industry (both film and gaming) will be happy to do that for you. If a game has unlimited possibilities, it’s up to the players to use those possibilities for constructive, nonviolent opportunities.  

Ryan Reynolds strolls through Free City
Ryan Reynolds | 20th Century Studios

Movies like Total Recall and The Matrix asked what is real? If we have a memory, or an accurate computer simulation, would we know the difference? Everyone knows Guy was a NPC but if Guy has free will, does that not make him human? 

Free Guy also tackles the real world for gamers. The first gamers we ever see in Free Guy are women. That’s important. Not just Milly, but random gamers are girls. The movie ultimately includes some of the male gamer stereotypes too, but Free Guy envisions an inclusive gaming community.

Ryan Reynolds makes Guy real, with some help

The visual effects in Free Guy are seamless. When Guy is walking through the streets of Free City, the chaos that surrounds him is rendered in live-action quality. It may also be as overwhelming as today’s video games can be, but it’s worth checking the background for wonderful sight gags. You won’t be able to catch all the Easter eggs the first time. 

The mechanics of the game make the action scenes new and inventive. Players and programmers can change the parameters of the action depending on their skill and access level. The action scenes in the city are necessarily CGI, but it helps that interior sets are lavish and real. They combine to create a world that feels vast, not just actors standing in front of green screens, of which they likely did their share too.

Free Guy programmers Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery talk in the office
(L-R) Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery | Alan Markfield/2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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Reynolds clearly had opportunities to improv. There are some scenes, like the coffee shop, where every take was probably different. It’s not a free for all, though. Reynolds keeps Guy on message. He’s just awoken to this opportunity to interact with the world. He’s new, but endearing and challenges the status quo. 

Tron posited that our computer programs were actually people punching in at the office. Now that games are sophisticated enough to interact with us, Free Guy holds us responsible for our creations, weather we designed them or just enjoy playing them. It’s a fun, feel-good movie that can make a difference.