Movie adaptations of popular video games have never really succeeded in capturing that unique thrill the video game medium offers. Of course, a film is never going to truly recreate the freedom or joy one gets from taking an active part within a truly immersive, interactive world, which goes a long way to explaining just why so many video game adaptations fall short of expectations.
However Free Guy, the latest family comedy from Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum), does a much better job than other gaming properties in terms of recreating the gaming aesthetic. Instead of adapting an existing game IP, Levy’s original movie follows Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a non-playable character from a popular online sandbox video game who discovers he lives inside a world where he can do anything. Rob banks, jump from atop skyscrapers or just buy some neat new trainers – the world is Guy’s oyster. With his newfound lease on life, Guy attempts to become more than a background character and impress his crush – the badass player Molotov Girl (Killing Eve‘s Jodie Comer), who has joined the game on an important and deeply personal quest.
The result is an immensely fun and entertaining special effects movie, one that is as big, loud and chaotic as the video games it lovingly apes. Cross The Truman Show with Grand Theft Auto or Fortnite and you have an idea what Free Guy is like. The world we see Guy inhabit is beautifully detailed, vibrant and energetic, bought to life by stunning design and animation work, and layered with fun details and gaming easter eggs that will amuse even the most casual gamers out there. Watching Free Guy perfectly captures the immense thrill of playing a good online shooter, and will no doubt send many a cinema-goer rushing home to boot up the PS4 or Xbox after the credits roll.
The gags are excellent throughout, with some excellent surprise cameos and knowing meta-humour thrown in for good measure, which will no doubt reward those in the audience who love their games. As for the action in this action-comedy, there is never any shortage of explosive set-pieces, with each proving to be particularly inventive and downright cool. Levy uses the game-world setting to maximum effect, stretching logic and delivering the kind of physic-bending, death-defying moments that would be impossible in a more realistic setting. The film’s climax is worthy of mention in this regard, though to say anymore would spoil some of the best gags in the entire film.
The film also does a good job of balancing the ridiculous and the serious, as Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn‘s hilarious script is also chock full of genuine heart and soul too. Reynolds himself is the main reason behind the tone’s consistency, bringing natural charisma and big humour to the character of Guy, whilst also ensuring the film’s more melancholic moments are never overplayed for a cheap gag. His co-stars are each superb in their respective roles too, with Taika Waititi in particular bringing just the right degree of over-the-top insanity to the villainous character of Antwan. Elsewhere Joe Keery is very likeable as ‘Keys’, the game developer charged with finding and fixing Guy who we soon discover has a deeper connection to events, whilst Comer impresses in her role as the cool and collected action hero of Guy’s dreams (though sadly, she doesn’t get much of an opportunity to flex her funny side here, which is probably the film’s only major downside).
Movies and video games may seldom mix with rewarding results, but Free Guy proves itself as an exception to the rule, whilst also standing out as one of the best video game movies released to date. Funny, action-packed and oft-times sweet, this is a must-see summer blockbuster that proves the two mediums can find some common ground after all.