If you're wondering why Mariah Carey's 1995 hit song "Fantasy" has been stuck in your head for weeks on end, you can probably thank the Free Guy marketing team. Just about every new trailer and teaser for the Ryan Reynolds vehicle has featured the iconic pop song playing over a horde of explosions and video game carnage. It may seem like a strange fit, pairing that song with a movie about a background Grand Theft Auto character coming to life, but it actually describes the final product almost perfectly. There's a soothing and delightful soul bursting through the stylized video game action sequences, as Free Guy finds a way to be the most chaotic romantic comedy in years, and easily one of the most enjoyable films of 2021.
Reynolds stars in the new film as a bank teller named "Guy," a non-playable character in a destructive, open-world video game called "Free City." His life as an NPC is basically programmed, keeping him in the same routine each and every day, until he meets a player named Millie (Jodie Comer). That's when the title comes into play, as Guy suddenly starts wondering if there's something more to his world, falling in love with Millie along the way.
The real-world Millie is spending her hours in Free City in an effort to find a code within the game that proves the technology used to build it was actually stolen from her and her former creative partner, Keys (Joe Keery). Unlike Millie, Keys works for the man that stole his work, Antoine (an endlessly hilarious and over-the-top Taika Waititi), in an effort to just make a living.
Guy plays an important role in Keys and Millie's story, but he doesn't know it (that revelation is saved for a wonderful third act reveal). To him, he's simply awakening to a new lease on life. It's that fish-out-of-water, "I don't know what anything is or how it works" aspect of Guy that makes him such a perfect vehicle for Reynolds. He's become so synonymous with Deadpool in recent years that many fans (and casting directors) have forgotten just how wide-ranging Reynolds' comedic talents actually are. He's playing the Dory character in a very violent Finding Nemo, setting aside everything that makes Deadpool great in favor of a childlike sense of wonder and some good old-fashioned optimism. While we're all pining for more Deadpool, Free Guy proves that Reynolds could move on from the Merc with the Mouth and the world would be just fine.
Free Guy is a great balance of Reynolds' Marvel work with his sometimes forgotten (and always underrated) work in rom-coms, both in terms of the actor's performance and in the movie as a whole. There's ridiculous violence, adolescent jokes, and plenty of industry satire, but there's also a couple of genuine love stories at the heart of this story, and they're what make for the film's best moments. This goes for romantic love stories as well as platonic ones, with Guy and Lil Rel Howery's Buddy coming through with some real tear-jerking encounters.
It's the genuine human connection and optimistic outlook on life that make the Free Guy engine run, but that's not to downplay just how good a job this film does at bringing a video game to the screen. The gaming industry is explored in Free Guy almost as well as it is in Apple's Mythic Quest, while the in-game jokes also happen to land more often than not. Hollywood has proven time and again that filmmakers struggle with turning video game concepts into good movies, but the script from Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn puts enough care into both mediums to find success, while director Shawn Levy provides a steady hand to keep it from venturing too off-course.
It's hard to make a good video game. It's hard to make a great romantic comedy. Somehow, Free Guy turns out to be both, while also containing Ryan Reynolds' best role to date. It's a sweet, sweet fantasy that's impossible not to enjoy.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Free Guy opens in theaters on August 13th.