James Jay Edwards

Free Guy Is Two Movies—One Fun, and One Mediocre

(Free Guy, courtesy 20th Century Studios)

James Jay Edwards reviews Free Guy, a science fiction action comedy directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer. (20th Century Studios


Ever wonder about those background characters in video games? You know, the people who just populate the world but don’t affect gameplay too much? Well, they’re called Non-Player Characters, or NPCs, and Free Guy explores what happens when one of those guys becomes important.

Free Guy is about an NPC named Guy (Deadpool’s Ryan Reynolds) who spends his days as a bank teller in the video game city of Free City. Each and every day, Guy wakes up, gets his coffee, and goes to work at the bank, which is robbed each and every one of those days by a Player, since a “Bank Heist” is one of the in-game missions.


(Free Guy, theatrical release poster, courtesy 20th Century Studios)

But Guy is not a normal NPC. He longs for a relationship with a dream girl he can picture in his mind. One day, he sees her, in the form of a Player Avatar named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer from Killing Eve). He approaches her, and she tells him to try on a Player’s sunglasses. During the next robbery attempt, he does—and, in a They Live-type of a moment, starts to see Free City as a Player, with all of the missions and rewards that have been right in front of him all along.

With his new power comes a new responsibility. Molotov Girl is seeking something important in the game and Guy agrees to help her. If she is successful in her quest, everything about the game—and Guy’s world—will be changed forever.


(Free Guy, courtesy 20th Century Studios)

That’s the in-game storyline for Free Guy. Which is also the fun storyline. There’s a more convoluted thread that includes Molotov Girl’s Player, Millie Rusk (also played by Comer), and her real-world struggles against the creator of Free City, a video game titan named Antoine (Jojo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi), who employs Millie’s ex-partner Walter “Keys” McKeys (Joe Keery from Stranger Things). This real-world plot walks a razor-thin line between a sappy rom-com and a savvy tech-thriller and doesn’t do either very successfully. But it does provide necessary motivations for the in-game story, so, it’s there.

Lucky for Free Guy, the video game world is awesome enough to carry the rest of the movie. Directed by Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Stranger Things) from a screenplay by Zak Penn (Ready Player One, The Avengers) and Matt Lieberman (Scoob!, Playing with Fire), the movie intertwines the two worlds fairly seamlessly, but everything the viewer wants to see happens virtually. While there’s some cloak-and-dagger in the out-of-game world, the action and humor is all in the game.


(Free Guy, courtesy 20th Century Studios)

And, as such, there are plenty of conveniences and contrivances in the plot. And, just as one might expect, there’s a certain bit of pandering to geek culture. It’s not even close to the level of, say, Ready Player One or the Space Jam movies, but Free Guy does go places that will make some nerds cheer and others roll their eyes. But that’s what you get with video game movies, even ones that are not based on specific games (although Free City does bear more than a passing resemblance to Vice City of the Grand Theft Auto series). And that’s all we’re going to say about the self-reference of Free Guy so we can avoid spoiler territory—yes, there are some fun surprises.

Free Guy is basically a tale of two movies. In one, you get a fun action-adventure flick that both mocks and pays tribute to video game culture. In the other, you get an odd combination of a romance thriller that doesn’t quite add up. Unfortunately, you can’t separate them; so, you take the good with the bad. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad. The in-game adventure does make the out-of-game faux-intrigue worth the trouble, so, in the end, the movie is entirely watchable. Even for an NPC.

Free Guy is in theaters now.



Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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