After a year-long delay, Free Guy arrives at an interesting crossroads for video games and media.
The medium has all but eclipsed the Hollywood box office in annual revenue for almost the last half-decade. Yet Hollywood has evaded cracking the cinematic code to make a beloved video game adaptation deserving of the big screen. So much so that the word “Curse” has off been associated and used to describe the unlucky run any and all video game movies have had at the box office. From gargantuan franchises including early 2000s online titan Warcraft to Ubisoft’s indie darling, Werewolves Within; all have debuted to muted criticism and diminished box office returns.
The only modicum of hope came from original movies like 2013’s heartfelt Wreck It Ralph and 2017’s surprise reboot-quel, Jumanji: Welcome 2 The Jungle. Enter Ryan Reynolds. Hollywood heartthrob and funny man whose own career finally launched after many false starts himself. It seems appropriate that a man with his resilience would attempt to break the video game movie curse with one of Nintendo’s most enduring franchises, Pokémon. Not a faithful adaptation of the beloved main game or cartoon series mind you, but of the little-known side story, Detective Pikachu. While not the rapturous success many were hoping for, the movie did well enough to dodge if not soundly defeat the ubiquitous curse.
With Free Guy, Reynolds is once again tackling the video game genre but instead of having the protective bubble wrap of a franchise, Free Guy is an original movie set in the world of online gaming. Playing the role of an NPC (nonplayable character) Guy is caught in the video game version of a time loop before he decides to break from his assigned role and in doing so captures the heart of the world. Or at least the zeitgeist of the internet.
The film is charming and unambitious in equal measure. Reynolds’ comedic talents are on full display and remind you that he deserves to be in more things where his face is seen, but Jodie Comer is absolutely the scene-stealer here with her dual roles as Millie and her online e-girl persona, Molotov Girl. A handful of cameos which I will not spoil here also delight. Unfortunately, Taika Waititi is given a one-dimensional role as one of the most obnoxious and whiny villains in recent memory.
Ultimately the movie just feels like it misses the mark on representing the online world of video games and gaming culture because that world is so specific, to depict it properly would alienate most middle-of-the-road mainstream audiences. Also, it would be close to impossible to accurately depict within the confines of PG-13 rating, but this is a Disney movie now, so them's the rules.
The action and the plot are forgettable but the chemistry between Reynolds and Comer is palpable. Throw in a love theme sampled from Disney’s delightful Oscar-winning animated short Paperman and you got a movie with heart if not brains. And while this may be a one and done for me, I still give it a low: All Right, All Right, All Right. (3/5)