Free Guy is a thoughtful sci-fi film masquerading as a Ryan Reynolds comedy. Or maybe it’s a Ryan Reynolds comedy pretending to have serious thoughts about artificial intelligence and other scientific concepts.
Regardless of how you get there, Free Guy finds a delightful middle ground that will keep you entertained without giving your brain a workout. But there’s one moment in particular at the end of the movie that may shock and awe fans, leading them to wonder not what happened (to be honest, it’s not that complicated) but how it happened.
Luckily, Inverse had a chance to speak with director Shawn Levy, who explained how he pulled off Free Guy’s most epic moment — but not before swearing us to secrecy until after the movie’s release.
“I have sat in dark theaters watching the movie with crowds and strangers and the reaction to that section of the movie is unlike anything I've personally experienced,” Levy tells Inverse. “It's not just clapping or laughing, it's cheering. That was thrilling.”
Now that Free Guy is officially in theaters, we’re free to share his full answer, along with the rest of our interview. In the conversation below, Levy discusses the ethics of AI, working with Alex Trebek, and what it was like to direct a bunch of professional video game streamers.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. And in case it wasn’t clear: spoilers ahead.
Near the end of Free Guy, Ryan Reynolds uses Captain America’s shield and a lightsaber. It’s epic. How did you pull that off? Was it a last-minute change after Disney acquired the movie?
There was always going to be a third act in which Ryan Reynolds squared off against his bigger, better 2.0 upgraded doppelganger: Guy versus Dude. And there was always this idea that Guy has mastered the game and could access all of the weaponry available within Free City, the video game in which he lives.
But once Disney bought Fox, suddenly, there were certain toys in the toy chest that were just too tempting not to ask for. And to our great thrill, Disney was incredibly supportive in regards to all our requests.
Free Guy asks some interesting questions about the ethics of AI and whether it’s okay to “kill” an artificial intelligence. What’s your take on that thorny question?
It's not something that I thought about a great deal before I got involved with this movie. But as I researched gaming culture and spoke to a lot of programmers and coders and people who are working in artificial intelligence, it was kind of this real eye-opener of the extent to which that tech has evolved. I kind of had no idea, and it is both stunning and slightly terrifying.
And as far as the ethics in regards to it, I've stayed ethically neutral on questions involving AI and involving the eradication of AI. That feels like a problem to be worked out by bigger brains than me.
The cast of Free Guy includes some big-name streamers like Ninja, Pokimane, DanTDM, and Jacksepticeye. What was it like working with them?
They were all super down to do it. Like, literally, I just called them or emailed them and told them a little bit about the movie and they were excited. I was clear from the get-go that I wanted to make a movie for everyone, but if I didn’t depict gaming culture accurately and authentically, I have failed. So they wanted to be a part of that aspiration.
They wanted to give me what I needed from them as actors, but they also were great resources to show a scene to or to have on set. They could call B.S. on stuff that I was gonna get wrong. It was like having some of the world's greatest video game consultants all on hand because they were already organically a part of the movie.
Alex Trebek has a cameo in Free Guy, which feels extra-powerful given the context. How did that happen? And when did you realize it would be a big deal?
We were in the edit room and we wanted to convey in the movie that Blue Shirt Guy [Ryan Reynolds] was becoming famous. It was Ryan who suggested that when you're an answer on Jeopardy, you're in the culture. So Ryan just asked, and that’s the way we got all the cameos in the movie. We just asked.
We didn't know that it would be one of the last things Alex would do. We didn't know that it would end up being released after his passing, all of which makes it more bittersweet, but also just an honor that we had the crossing of our paths with this legend, who will be missed.
Free Guy is in theaters now.