As a 30-something, I've suffered through video game movies pretty much my entire life. Every couple of years, someone decides to tell a story from inside the video game world and fills it with gamer references so "the kids" can relate. Thanks to this painful history, you'd be forgiven for thinking "hard pass" when you see a trailer with Ryan Reynolds playing a video game non-player character -- an NPC -- who realizes everything around him is a lie.
Five minutes after finishing, however, I found myself looking up showtimes to rewatch one of the best films of the summer. The good news is Free Guy is available at home now, available to rent or buy from Sept. 28, and coming to 4K and Blu-ray disc on Oct. 12.
Meet Guy. He's an NPC who works at a bank in a video game world that's clearly a hybrid between Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite. Guy has an extremely routine life simply because he's an NPC. Everyone in Guy's world is aware of the "sunglasses people" who run around and do crazy, violent things all day.
As an NPC, you don't speak to one of the sunglasses people unless you're spoken to and you don't do anything outside of your routine. But when Guy meets a woman in the game one day, all of his programming goes out the window and he starts behaving like one of the sunglasses people to get her attention.
Outside of the game world, we get an explanation for how it would be even remotely possible for a video game character to act like this. Two real-world main characters develop an indie game where everything in the game evolves organically and characters can do whatever they want.
Their game is purchased by the company that makes the game Guy now lives in, and the two developers suspect that crazy new technology is being used in this popular shooter without their permission. A race against the clock to discover the truth both inside and outside the game sends the story through more laughs than I could count, as well as a number of legitimately touching moments.
The trailers would have you believe the movie is about Ryan Reynolds, but I'm here to tell you we've all been deceived. While he does a very good job being Ryan Reynolds (essentially Deadpool without the costume), the cast truly makes this movie shine.
Jodie Comer is flawless in every scene, existing as both a badass assassin in the video game world and a broke, desperate developer with something to prove in the real world. Taika Waititi does a spectacular job being both hilarious and deeply hated as the tech bro owner of this video game company, while Joe Keery nails being the low-risk straight edge.
My personal favorite, though, is Lil Rel Howry as Guy's best friend Buddy, who lacks the confidence to join Guy on his adventures at first but eventually comes through. Even the absurdly wonderful cameos, which include Chris Evans casually watching a Twitch stream of the game and Channing Tatum performing all of the most delightfully awkward in-game emote dances, are perfect.
I was ready to be critical of yet another film not really understanding how internet culture and video games work. But by the time the movie ended, I genuinely didn't care about the stuff it got wrong because it didn't matter.
Guy isn't a normal NPC in a normal game and the explanation for why is plausible enough, so the details are a lot less relevant. There is a single point where the movie establishes a set of rules and then immediately breaks them for no real reason. But the rules and the instance of nearly breaking them happen quickly and are immediately less important than the larger plot.
Perhaps more important than whether the movie understands how games work, Free Guy has plenty to say about the state of the video game market in the real world.
From indie devs getting bought up and silenced by larger companies to the decisions about whether you should make something good or something mindless to the jabs at toxic men with opinions, Free Guy gets it and does not shy away from any of it. Plenty of serious documentaries and explainers dive into these topics in greater detail, but it's refreshing that Free Guy casually includes so many of them -- and gets them right.
More than anything else, Free Guy is just plain fun. I loved the nonstop references to fellow Disney properties and the video game worlds colliding in this one space. And frankly, every single actor is an absolute delight. The movie will mean a bit more to someone who gets the references or is even vaguely aware of names like Ninja or Pokimane, but otherwise it's a movie everyone can enjoy. Free Guy is in theaters now, available on Digital and out on Blu-ray and DVD starting Oct. 12.