Spoilers ahead for Free Guy
Free Guy, Disney’s new movie about a video game NPC who realizes he’s living in a video game, is a treat! Its base is classic Disney — a white heteronormative love story. But its toppings — Ryan Reynolds’ unique brand of adult humor, a commitment to exploring modern day video game culture, and tons of star cameos — make this movie fun to watch!
Centering White Heteronormativity
Free Guy’s main protagonists are all white, heteronormative characters, per usual. This story could have had so much potential for great representation if even one of the leads had been non-white. Yet again, POC are relegated to supporting roles. Guy’s best friend is Buddy (Lil Rey Howery), a fearful security guard. Howery is hilarious here, playing a very similar character to his role in Get Out. While he is great as comic relief, he also has one of the most touching moments in the movie when he gives a speech to Guy about how, even if they are fake, the moments they share together are real. Buddy should have been given more to do than serve as Guy’s motivator and fall into the black best friend trope.
Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar) is another comedic character and the friend to Keys (Joe Keery). Guy and Buddy and Keys and Mouser are meant to be parallels of each other since Keys himself created Guy, so that means we get two sets of white male protagonists and their POC best friends! However, Mouser seems much less like a best friend than Buddy. But Ambudkar does amazing in this role, and it was great to see him so soon after finishing season 2 of Never Have I Ever where he played the cool teacher. He also should have been given more to do than act as Antoine’s lackey and Keys’ friend. We don’t even see too much of him being Keys’ friend anyway, making his line “Keys is my boy,” feel a bit cheap, but the movie unfortunately isn’t interested in giving him much depth beyond that.
Ryan Reynolds is a star as the main character. His physicality as Guy is dynamic and hilarious to watch. Reynolds portrays Guy’s naivete perfectly, especially given that this is the same man who plays Deadpool, one of the most risque and crude characters onscreen today. Jodie Comer as Millie/MolotovGirl is more interesting to watch when she’s in the real world facing off against a company that stole from her. Yet, she serves mainly a love interest for the film’s protagonists both in the game and real life.
These two are not as fun to watch when the characters are being annoyingly straight. I’m talking about the multiple scenes throughout the movie when Guy sees Millie, time slows down, and he ogles her like a giant cone of bubblegum ice cream on a hot summer’s day. Every time this happened I got frustrated because this happens so often onscreen. Guy’s naivete, his storyline, and these moments with Millie reminded me strongly of Emmet in The Lego Movie. Sometimes it felt like I was watching the same movie since the stories are so similar: a generic, naive background character finds out his world isn’t real via a mysterious tough girl he falls in love with upon first sight. However, Free Guy is set in a video game, and there’s a specific reason Guy is in love with Millie: he was programmed to be.
This twist was what made me begrudgingly accept the ridiculous romance between Guy and Millie while it lasted, but I was relieved when Millie didn’t end up with him. We don’t need another story about a person falling in love with an AI — it feels like a strange loophole to explore how abnormal heteronormative romances can get.
Keys is our other protagonist. Keery brings the same charm to Free Guy that made Steve Harrington in Stranger Things an internet heartthrob. Yet the characters are extremely different, showing Keery has some range. I was impressed that he could upstage Ryan Reynolds as a “leading man” of sorts when they never shared a scene together, so props to him. Keery is extremely likable in his role as a former indie game developer turned lowly employee for a massive mainstream game company. The idea that Guy was simply a surrogate for Keery’s hidden feelings for Millie was a twist I liked. This romance worked given how it was developed slowly, supported by a clearly established friendship (and tension) between the characters, and how it was never more important than the main conflict: that Antoine stole their original code.
The commitment to the exploration of modern day video games and the culture surrounding them was very intriguing. I appreciated the way Free Guy tried to delve into the importance of coding behind video games. The accuracy of the graphics and inclusion of cameos from popular gamers like Jacksepticeye and Pokimane made the film feel more realistic. Free Guy also includes some commentary on how gratuitous and violent video games can be and the way children are desensitized to violence through them, but it doesn’t dive deep. But this isn’t what the film really came to do. It came to have fun! And it does.
The many cameos from famous stars make it even more enjoyable. Some may be more difficult to find than others, like Dwayne Johnson and Hugh Jackman’s brief moments as players’ voices. Others are exaggerated and funny, like Channing Tatum as a young man’s avatar. Alex Trebek’s brief cameo as himself was a quick emotional moment given his passing last year. But the cameo that takes the cake is Chris Evans’. In the final act, when Guy faces off against Dude, Disney gives Ryan Reynolds all their toys to play with. He reveals a Hulk arm and a lightsaber that forcefully reminded me this was a Disney movie (in a good way). Guy unveils a Captain America shield, prompting a quick shot of Chris Evans watching the livestream and crying, “What the shit!” I was shocked. As soon as Evans showed up onscreen, my entire theater started cheering and whooping.
Even though he’s not a cameo, I must add that Taika Waititi is an absolute delight to watch as the unhinged, privileged villain. Waititi is priceless as always. I’d love to see him in more villainous roles.
Free Guy combines video games, Disney, and Ryan Reynolds in the best way. Reminiscent of Wreck It Ralph, The Lego Movie, and The Matrix all wrapped up in one, it’s simply entertaining, albeit straight and white.
Free Guy is in theaters now.