Going through the filmography of Shawn Levy, you start to notice some trends. His movies are generally high concept, they appeal to a massive audience, and most importantly, they seem to just work.
Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds as a background video game character who becomes self-aware. The first act was a blast, setting up a great premise and introducing a solid cast of characters. The insane budget actually shows on screen, with awesome effects, big action set pieces, and absurd cameos.
There’s not a pretentious frame in this movie. It’s honestly impressive how plastic and corporate the whole thing feels while delivering a fun experience. Ryan Reynolds is endlessly charming and funny and I think his entire aesthetic and brand elevate this to much more than it would be otherwise. The rest of the cast also do a great job and seemed to have alot of fun. Actually, Free Guy is so clean and painstakingly inoffensive that it noticeably lacks any real perspective.
This movie pokes fun at video game culture and I was frankly shocked at how simultaneously accurate and inaccurate it was. You get this whiplash from watching an authentic GTA-style action scene immediately followed by a cringe conversation about “noobs” and “trolls”. There are fun interactions where Guy gets skill boosts and loot from other players, but then a whole scene poking fun at a “loser” who lives at home with his mom at the unacceptable age of 22. There is also this baffling message about recycling existing IP instead of creating something new, which is hilarious considering this is a Disney movie. There is literally an entire conversation where the antagonist asks, “why create original work when you can just make sequels and recycle successful properties”. Then the climax that follows features licensed nostalgia-porn from recycled properties that save the day. Disney did this same gross stuff with Tim Burtons’ Dumbo movie. It’s weird to see a Ryan Reynolds movie lack this much self-awareness.
Make no mistake, this is a giant, high-concept, popcorn movie with a dynamic cast that delivers on its promise. The problem is that it feels like more of a glossy product than a film. Free Guy is just plain fun, but the desperate crowd-pleasing and disingenuous corporate messaging leave this expensive ride feeling incredibly cheap.