Reynolds continued: “It’s just so fun to do something new, something that is quite literally based on absolutely nothing. So I love the process of acquainting an audience with this new property or this new idea. And it’s big. The scale is big. And I think it’s appealing to a huge audience.” That promise of Free Guy being “something new and something really special” reminded Reynolds of another movie of his he holds particularly dear. “It’s not unlike how I grabbed onto Deadpool. I just felt like there was a reason that this needed to exist.”The heart of the movie and the focus of the story is squarely on Reynolds’ bank teller protagonist Guy, an NPC in a raucous GTA-style, open-world shooter game called Free City. As Levy pointed out, Guy’s “very name signals his genericness and he loves his life until he slowly realizes that there might be more to his life than he thought.”
“In a video game world where anything is possible, if you became aware of the artifice of your world, you might be capable of anything. So it’s about the slow empowerment,” Levy explained, while also likening the film to a superhero origin story. “That [obscene amount of daily violence] is the norm for Guy until he realizes that maybe this should not be my normal. It’s kind of an awakening of consciousness and he develops agency over his own existence.”
“To gamers, the movie should feel like, oh, you know what? They got it. They got so many things right, but it’s not exclusively for that audience,” Levy explained. “If we do our job well, it’s going to make a gamer feel seen and like we got certain things right, but it should be more broadly resonant and relatable than just [for] gamers.”
As Reynolds sees it, Free Guy is less about the video game it depicts but rather the characters who inhabit it: “We’re using the video game world, the Free City world and video game culture, as a sort of a vehicle to tell this really beautiful and powerful human story.” As Levy later put it, “the big theme of this movie is that Ryan’s character’s trying to be a good guy inside the city where goodness doesn’t exist.”
Before Guy realizes he might be able to change his life, his existence is one of such repetitive extreme violence that even getting beaten up or robbed at gunpoint multiple times a day is as ordinary a part of daily life as commuting or getting coffee is in the real world. “Half the time he doesn’t even interrupt his sentence that he’s in the middle of while he’s being robbed. He’s having a conversation with somebody. He just carries on,” Reynolds said. Guy’s best friend is the bank’s security guard, played by Lil Rey, another NPC so accustomed to daily violence that he and Guy simply, as Levy explained, “just lie down like submissive puppies” when a gunman enters the bank because they know “no one ever stops a robbery in Free City, you just get robbed.”
Both Levy and Reynolds spoke of the “soft focus background” action taking place throughout Free City, which features over-the-top violence where background NPCs are killed in a multitude of darkly comic ways. The very idea about background NPCs is at the heart of Free Guy, according to Levy: “It’s a movie about, oh, you were created to live in the background, but what if you could rewrite your own code? What if you could redefine your own place in the world? So in a movie that is literally about that theme, it was incumbent on us to take every NPC, the bank teller, of course, but we’re shooting a scene with the shoe clerk. He’s got a little arc, the barista at the coffee shop, the security guard in the bank. So really tasking ourselves with giving these small but specific arcs for every background character, so that no one is existing just in the background, but rather have their own inner life.”This “soft focus background” action also includes pop culture and video game nods gamers and fans may appreciate. As Reynolds revealed, “I don’t think Easter eggs are a storytelling pillar, but I do think that Easter eggs, especially in 2019 or in this case 2020 when it comes out, are something that audiences love, and I love and appreciate. So the movie will be riddled with Easter eggs.” Levy, when asked, played coy about whether Free Guy might nod to another Disney video game movie, Tron. “There’s a lot of Easter eggs in this movie, alluding to a number of games and movies and movies about games, but I’m going to stay a little cagey on whether there’s a Tron-specific one.”
Free Guy, however, doesn’t take place wholly within the realm of a video game as it also sees “real world” characters, such as Jodie Comer’s Milly, who wrote the code for Free City, enter the game as avatars. The introverted Milly is out to determine who stole her code and, as her badass avatar Molotov Girl, she comes into contact with Guy. “What’s wonderful is Molotov meets Guy,” Comer explained, “within the video world and he doesn’t realize that he is an algorithm. He thinks his life has this greater meaning, as we all do. And it’s about how these two people who are from completely separate worlds kind of help each other realize a lot of what is inside of them. And they help each other both get to the kind of destination it is that they need to be at.”
Barring any COVID-related delays, the destination for Free Guy is in movie theaters this December.