Free Guy (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2021 (October 12, 2021)
Studio(s)Berlanti Productions/21 Laps/20th Century Studios (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
The concept of having a character discover that they are part of a video game or other computer simulation may be a familiar one at this point, but Free Guy adds the wrinkle of making the protagonist a lowly NPC (non-player character) who really is nothing more than a simulation, and a limited one at that. Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a clerk who goes about his daily routine unaware of the fact that he only does so because it’s the way that he’s been programmed. But he still dreams of something better, for reasons that he doesn’t understand, and when he finds himself attracted to the player character Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer), she unintentionally sets him on a journey that will change not only his life, but also the entire world around him. Meanwhile, in the real world, the player behind Molotvgirl is a programmer named Millie who is trying to enlist the help of her former partner Keys (Joe Keery) to prove that their original code was stolen by the devious Antwan (Taika Waititi), the head of the company that operates Free City.
Despite superficial similarities to The Matrix, Free Guy has far more in common with Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow in the way that it explores trying to break out of a seemingly predestined repetitive cycle. The script from Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn doesn’t really break new ground, but it does approach the representation of video games on film from a different angle, and there’s a bit of heart behind the action as well. Director Shawn Levy has plenty of experience in handling visual effects driven comedies like this, and he was able to keep the complexities of the production from overwhelming the simple story.
The actors all do credible work, with Reynolds playing against type by keeping his native snark fully under wraps this time. Guy is a naive innocent because that’s how he’s been programmed, and Reynolds plays him earnestly. Despite all of his romantic dreams, it’s Guy’s relationship with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) that provides its core of the film. Jodie Comer handles her dual role well, and Taika Waititi—well, Taika Waititi gonna Taika Waititi, and there’s nothing wrong with that. His patented brand of low-key scenery chewing is perfect for Antwan. Free Guy is unquestionably a high-concept film, but there’s just enough going on with the characters to keep it interesting even when the concept wears thin.
Cinematographer George Richmond captured Free Guy digitally at resolutions of 2.8K and 3.4K for the scenes taking place in the real world, and at 6.5K for the scenes in Free City. The former were shot using ARRI Alexa Mini cameras with Panavision E-, G-, T-Series and Ultra Speed Golden lenses, and ARRI Alexa SXT Plus cameras with Panavision E-, G-, T-Series, Ultra Speed Golden, ATZ and AWZ2 lenses. The latter were shot using ARRI Alexa 65 cameras with Panavision Sphero 65 lenses. Everything was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. HDR10 is included on Disney’s Ultra HD. The image is sharp and detailed, though the abundance of CGI throughout still gives it a somewhat smoother appearance than the best that the format has to offer. (It’s possible that the effects were rendered at 2K and then upscaled to 4K for compositing.) But it’s the HDR grade that really shines here, with a more dazzling gamut of colors for Free City, and much improved contrast with deep black levels. Bright highlights really stand out in scenes like the break-in at the archive, which includes a stable of exotic vehicles—the sheen from the paint on the cars is incredibly vibrant, and they genuinely “pop,” especially when set off against the vivid red background. The sequences set in the real world look muted by comparison, though obviously that’s by design. Overall, the presentation is just short of reference quality, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos. This is another recent Disney 4K title (like Black Widow) that corrects some of the sound issues with their previous UHD releases. The track is still mastered a bit low in level, but with the volume adjusted, it has plenty of dynamic impact, and the bass is deep—two elements that have been lacking on many of those older discs. The overhead channels are used well, with sounds from the various denizens of Free City panning all throughout the soundstage—helicopters flying overhead, vehicles driving all around the listener, and other directionalized effects. Gunfire, explosions, and even the songs and score have plenty of impact. It’s a good track that nicely supports the visuals.
Other audio options include English Descriptive Audio, French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, French (Canada) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, German 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, French (Canada), Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Disney’s Ultra HD release for Free Guy is branded as an Ultimate Collector's Edition. It’s a 2-disc set that includes a Blu-ray and a Digital code on a paper insert, as well as a slipcover. There are no extras on the UHD. The Blu-ray includes the following extras, all in HD:
- Deleted/Extended Scenes: Guy and Buddy Hit the Beach (1:11)
- Deleted/Extended Scenes: Hot Nuts Gets Blown (:24)
- Deleted/Extended Scenes: NPC Rally (Extended) (4:08)
- Gag Reel (4:48)
- Dude Vs Guy (15:55)
- It's Taika's World (8:34)
- Welcome to Free City (15:13)
- Theatrical Trailer #1 (3:03)
- Theatrical Trailer #2 (2:35)
- Theatrical Trailer #3 (2:26)
While that’s hardly an ultimate collection of extras, there’s still some interesting material here. The first deleted scene shows something that was only referenced in the film; the second one is a throwaway gag; and the third one extends the NPC rally by adding various bits of dialogue throughout. It’s easy to see why all of it was cut. The Gag Reel is a mixed bag, but it has a few genuinely funny moments, and it features more of Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi improvising. Dude Vs Guy is a look at the creation of the fight between Ryan Reynolds and his bodybuilder doppelganger, hosted by Shawn Levy. It shows 6’7” bodybuilder Aaron Reed working with Reynolds on set prior to the facial replacement, and while the final effect in the film is problematic, it’s still interesting to see how it all came together. Creating Molotovgirl shows the way that Jodie Comer was transformed into Millie’s avatar Molotovgirl, from the costume design to the stunt work. It's Taika's World says it all right in the title. It includes interviews with Waititi as well as behind-the-scenes footage of him working on set. He talks about how he was relieved to be able to focus on acting for a change without having to worry about directing, and he also gives some insight into how he tries to respect the script even when improvising. Welcome to Free City gives a very brief overview of the development of the story—Levy calls it “A Truman Show for the digital gaming culture”—before breaking down the way that the sets were designed and shot.
Free Guy doesn’t really explore its intriguing concept in any depth, but on the other hand, it’s just not that kind of film. For what it is, it’s entertaining enough, with a few small surprises along the way, including a split-second cameo that’s worth the price of admission—enough said.
- Stephen Bjork
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