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Critics say Ryan Reynolds' Free Guy is The Truman Show through the lens of Fortnite, in a good way

By Nivea Serrao
Free Guy Trailer Still

From Resident Evil and Tomb Raider to the newly-released Mortal Kombat, and even the upcoming Uncharted, video games have been a fertile ground for movie adaptations and even potential television series. Enter Free Guy

Soon to be released on Aug. 13, the upcoming movie — which has been co-written by Matt Lieberman (The Addams Family) and Zak Penn (Ready Player One) and directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) — draws on several common aspects of the medium itself as it tells the story of Guy (Deadpool's Ryan Reynolds), a non-playable character or NPC in a Grand Theft Auto-esque game who suddenly gains sentience and begins testing the bounds of his game-gifted invulnerability. 

This all kicks off when he meets the cool British asssasin "Molotov Girl" (Killing Eve's Jodie Comer), whom he develops a crush on. However in reality, she is Millie, an American coder who has entered the game to prove that obnoxious tech overlord Antwan (Thor: Love and Thunder's Taika Waititi) stole her and her partner (Stranger Things' Joe Keery) work as the basis of his massively popular first-person shooter. 

So far, early screenings of the movie have resulted in rave reviews, with one audience member even declaring it the "best video game movie ever made." And while most critics agree that the film is a lot of fun, it does also have some glaring flaws.

Here's what critics have to say: 

"It’s an undemanding and cheerfully silly riff on the themes of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and what the heck we’re all doing in this big old universe of ours: as if someone took The Truman Show or Inception – or even The Lego Movie – and stripped out every serious satirical ambition, replacing it with M&M-coloured spectacle. The result is not something that’s in any way challenging, but Reynolds is so puppyishly eager to please," says The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Another kind of movie would have made a bigger deal of Guy’s existential crisis, and tried to extract more from this both in terms of comedy and pathos. But Lieberman and Levy – perhaps refreshingly – just see it as a high-concept premise enabling a kind of doomed postmodern romance between Guy and Millie. Free Guy isn’t going to have many MA theses written about it, but it has entertainment value."

"Free Guy isn’t the most original movie of all time, but what matters here is how Lieberman and Penn make it fresh. Simple, by asking: What would happen if Guy, an NPC, fell in love with one of the players he sees inside the game?" says Variety's Peter Debruge. "But let’s be honest: Free Guy is a lot of fun, despite the fact that Levy and the screenwriters seem to be changing the rules as they go. Reynolds might be a little too charismatic to believe as a personality-devoid NPC (the way that Jim Carrey always seemed a little too chirpily self-aware as the ostensibly naive star of The Truman Show), but it’s a thrill to watch the character come into his own, as "Blue Shirt Guy" (as the fans following his exploits in the game call him) levels up in a hurry."

"[P]assionate gamers will delight in its non-stop delivery of in-jokes and Easter eggs. Those unfamiliar with such terms as 'open-world' and 'NPC' (non-player character) are likely to be less amused, although Reynolds’ boundless appeal, the frequently witty screenplay and expertly rendered technical aspects make the film enjoyable summer frivolity." says The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck. "The movie is also very funny at times, even if many of the gags, including cameos by real-life gamer celebrities, will go over many people’s heads. There are plenty of other surprises as well, which, except for the poignant last screen appearance of the late Alex Trebek, won’t be revealed here. Let’s just say that Disney, much like Warner Bros. in the recent Space Jam: A New Legacy, isn’t shy about exploiting its intellectual content."

"The [romantic and narrative] stakes are treated with approximately equal weight by director Levy, which sets it apart from the C-plot status of most romances in chaotic popcorn fodder like this. So does the movie's overall tone — both deeply silly and surprisingly sweet, even as its explosions and insult-comic banter tweak the outer limits of PG-13," says Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt. "In a genre where winky self-awareness has become standard-issue, Free might have come off as manic and hollow; instead, it has fun having a heart." 

"What those trailers don’t tell you about the film is that Guy’s story is much more impactful and complex. It’s a love story. A story about human acceptance, empathy, and even the nature of existence itself, packaged in a bright, beautiful popcorn movie with plenty of comedy and action along the way," says iO9's Germain Lussier. "All of which is to say, Free Guy is way better than you may have been expecting—in fact, it’s absolutely joyful."

"[W]here this adventure shifts gear from an accomplished, explode-y blockbuster to something that might actually move you is in deft screenwriting that takes in conversations around existential angst, corporate greed, artistic integrity, ethics, people power and living an authentic life," says Total Film's Jane Crowther. "Satisfying for gamers and non-gamers alike – and toting an unexpectedly bittersweet payoff – it feels both smart and relevant for audiences that have lived through a pandemic and crisis leadership in recent years. And though you could pick holes in Waititi’s strangely mirthless performance, the oversimplification of coding or sneaking similarities to Ready Player One or Space Jam: A New Legacy, it would feel churlish to do so in a film so brimful of infectious hope."

"With Free Guy, Reynolds gets just a little more in touch with his Carrey side via nothing less than his own version of The Truman Show, shorn of its daydream dread and rocketed into the age of Fortnite," says The A.V. Club's A. A. Dowd. "Part of the startling magic of The Truman Show was the way it allowed Carrey to slowly dismantle the wholesome blankness of his title character, until we were watching an unwilling puppet going through a full existential crisis. Free Guy is like a version of that television-age fairy tale where the full crisis never arrives: Reynolds replicates that slightly unhinged Truman Burbank grin but not the desperation behind it. More than ever, you long to see him unleash his inner Carrey, with all the comic derangement but also emotional expressiveness that implies."

"Free Guy seems more focused on offering up Ryan Reynolds guilelessly moseying across the screen as the titular Guy, in what feels like a version of The Lego Movie that swaps 'charming, stop-motion-style Lego animation' for 'video games' and throws in a heavy dose of The Truman Show for good measure. The result is an enjoyable — albeit weird — but largely forgettable summer action movie." says The Verge's Chaim Gartenberg. "After months away from theaters, Free Guy is definitely an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two at the movies. But, like an overproduced video game, it almost has too much stuff, bouncing between action and romance and comedy and screeds against making too many sequels to really do any one of those things overly well."

Free Guy is only available to be watched in theaters starting from Aug 13.