We’re all the main characters of our own stories, but in other people’s stories the best we can hope for is a supporting role. In Free Guy, endearing lonely-heart bank teller Guy (Ryan Reynolds) learns he’s nothing more than a background character in the story he’s unwittingly a part of. When he decides to change that, he becomes the hero he never knew he could be.
Guy is a non-player character (NPC) in an open-world Grand Theft Auto-esque video game called Free City, a place where the residents take the extraordinary crime rate in stride. While Guy is a good-natured optimist who genuinely means it when he tells people to have a great day, he’s also trapped in a routine that he’s afraid to break out of. But after he notices a woman who goes by the name Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer) he finally decides to face his fears and figure out what the heroes and villains who wear sunglasses in the city know that he doesn’t. Of course, this means he must come to terms with the fact that his world isn’t real, but with Molotovgirl’s assistance, he learns how to play the game on his own terms.
As Guy’s positive approach gains attention in the real world, he becomes increasingly popular, threatening the success of the cynical world of Free City and its upcoming sequel and drawing the wrath of preening narcissist Antwan (Taika Waititi), the head of its distributor Soonami. Meanwhile, Molotovgirl, whose name in the real world is Millie, enlists Guy to help her in her fight against Antwan, who she believes used the code she created with Soonami programmer Keys (Joe Keery) to create the game.
Reynolds has solidified his place in pop-culture history playing the titular anti-hero in the Deadpool franchise. In Free Guy, he plays a sort of anti-Deadpool, a guy without a cynical bone in his body who actively avoids engaging in any kind of violence despite being surrounded by it. Reynolds imbues Guy with wide-eyed idealism but not in a cloying way, and his genuine goodness makes the character easy to root for. Comer also impresses as both the badass gun-slinging Molotovgirl and the determined programmer Millie, evidence beyond her standout role in Killing Eve that she has a fantastic career ahead of her. And Waititi goes completely over the top as the obnoxious, ridiculous Antwan, turning him into a comical but chilling villain.
Shawn Levy, directing from a script by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn (one of the writers of Ready Player One), does a fantastic job bringing the kinetic, ultra-violent world of Free City to life and melding it with the more mundane real world. He ensures the tone of The Truman Show-for-violent-video-games premise stays funny and optimistic, in line with the main character, while touching on themes like overcoming fears and taking charge of one’s destiny. And while the story includes multiple references to other intellectual property that could be seen as cynical cross promotion, the most noteworthy examples are such crowd-pleasers, it’s hard to fault the movie for them.
Ultimately, Free Guy is as uplifting and humane as it is hilarious and action-packed. It’s a film that champions the value of friendship and positivity over division and negativity, a refreshing perspective that feels especially vital in today’s world.