It’s just a regular day for Guy (Ryan Reynolds) in Free City. He picks up his usual order at the coffee house. Says hello to his friends and neighbours. And cheerfully suffers the familiar round of violence and humiliation perpetrated by the 'Sunglasses People' on his way to work at a bank that gets robbed every day. Nothing ever changes. No matter how badly Guy secretly wants it to. Until the day Guy finally runs across the woman of his dreams: the sexy badass sunglasses-sporting Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer). Their chance encounter lands Guy with his own pair of special sunglasses that suddenly awaken him to the true nature of his existence. He and his fellow Free City inhabitants are mere non-player characters in a popular online role-playing game. Except now Guy discovers the means to become the hero of his own life even as his actions wreak consequences in the real world. Not only for Molotovgirl's downtrodden real world alter-ego Milly (Jodie Comer again) but also the callous and crooked game designers out to stop this rogue program from derailing their multimillion dollar
Despite having its theatrical release delayed by the global pandemic Free Guy unexpectedly proved the tonic the world needed in 2021. A feel-good fable for the age of online gaming. On the surface its story is superficially similar to those already woven through Ready Player One (2018) and Wreck-It-Ralph (2013). Yet this rip-roaring sci-fi action-comedy envelops not one but dual love stories, both of which prove disarmingly sweet. Along with existential themes that are surprisingly profound. The premise, devised by co-screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn (who also worked on Ready Player One) plays almost like the optimistic flipside of John Carpenter's cult favourite They Live (1988). In this instance the protagonist dons special sunglasses that allow them to discover a world of possibilities beyond their constricted world view. Along with satirizing the casual cruelty inherent in many RPGs via dizzying set-pieces that parody the excesses of Grand Theft Auto by way of a Michael Bay action movie, Free Guy hinges on a narrative arc (hero rebels against predetermined destiny to forge their own path, finding purpose and true love along the way) that resonates on a universal level. Between wry sight gags and one-liners the plot posits it is a fear of being hurt that keeps people from realizing their full potential; whether that be in life or love. If one dares venture outside their comfort zone who knows what they might find?
Whilst an amiable affair bristling with energy and fun action scenes well handled by increasingly dependable genre hand Shawn Levy, the film's visual imagination arguably never quite captures the potential inherent in the script. An over-reliance on novelty pop tunes is another irksome trait although Free Guy is far from the only modern blockbuster to suffer that flaw. That said Jodie Comer's commendable cover version of Mariah Carey's 'Fantasy' is the exception and actually somewhat crucial to the plot.
Free Guy's guiding light, producer-star Ryan Reynolds is on fine form. While Reynolds relentless fourth-wall breaking postmodern action-comedy persona can prove grating in weaker vehicles here his snarky quips are tempered by a James Stewart like sweetness and vulnerability that is especially winning. It helps that Levy surrounds Reynolds with an outstanding ensemble cast. Amidst a galaxy of guest star cameos, including several superstars from the online gaming community, Comer once again demonstrates her remarkable versatility with dual performances and accents. Elsewhere Stranger Things heartthrob Joe Keery proves he definitely has the comedy chops and leading man charisma to launch a promising big screen career while Taika Waititi gives it the full-tilt boogie as the most despicable big tech asshole this side of the daily news.