An illustration of Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy.
Ryan Reynolds retreats back into his acting comfort zone in "Free Guy." (Illustration by Sonja Vasiljeva, San Jose State University)

‘Free Guy’ Is a Success, but Highlights Ryan Reynolds’ Penchant for Sameness

The actor’s wit helps him excel, but by popular meme standards, his career seems like he ‘has always been given the same assignment.’

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An illustration of Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy.

The actor’s wit helps him excel, but by popular meme standards, his career seems like he ‘has always been given the same assignment.’

Ryan Reynolds is famous for a lot of things. Whether it’s the number of blockbuster films he has under his belt or the back-and-forth trolling he takes part in with his wife, Blake Lively, Reynolds never has to try too hard to remain relevant. His everlasting popularity, however, seems to be unaffected by his tendency to take on similar roles in each of his films time and time again, which the actor’s done yet again as the star of his latest movie, “Free Guy.”

With Reynolds’ high film output and charming wit, it is easy for audiences and fans — we all know they are not always interchangeable — to be distracted from the predictability of his roles. That being the case, quantity often diverts our attention from the quality of entertainment.

Recently, social media has been used to visually illustrate the acting range of stars who aptly explore different genres of cinema. One such medium is the “understanding the assignment” meme. The meme format gathers photos of actors from their most diverse set of roles in one place and captions it, “[Actor’s name] has always understood the assignment.” Popular examples include the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, James McAvoy and an array of others.

Reynolds does not fall into this category. If anything, placing photos of Reynolds from any number of his movies ought to be captioned, “Ryan Reynolds has always been given the same assignment.” Any casual onlooker would think each photo was from the same feature.

Furthermore, Reynolds’ performance in “Free Guy” is rather comparable to that of the actor’s other films. From viewing the trailer, one can tell that the movie tells a story they’ve probably seen before: Reynolds leading an action-packed comedy; Reynolds using sarcasm as a defense mechanism; Reynolds saving the day by being put in harm’s way; Reynolds sporting an invisible mask of sameness regardless of his film’s plotline. Honestly, it’s as though he is the same guy — no pun intended — with a different name and occupation in each of his projects.

It’s no surprise then that the success of “Free Guy” at the box office is being attributed to the film’s old-school formula of a star fronting an original project popularized by word of mouth, all in a film that is only playing in theaters for the time being. This formula fits in with the positive outcomes of Reynolds’ other works, too.

 

Accordingly, earlier on in his career, Reynolds was known for his leading male roles in romantic comedies alongside the likes of Isla Fisher, Sandra Bullock and Amy Smart. He made his way into the hearts of many through rom-coms like “The Proposal” and “Definitely Maybe.” The late 2000s was the home of some of the most iconic flicks in the “romedy” genre. So long as there was a friendzone to escape or an obstacle to overcome for the sake of love, Reynolds was the guy to get the job done while making you chortle at his every statement.

Equally as important is Reynolds’ transition into superhero fiction. The varying multiverses that contain his metahuman roles in “Green Lantern” and the “Deadpool” saga remain the settings for Reynolds’ highest-grossing films. Similar to how other actors are primarily recognized for their roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff or Chris Hemsworth as Thor, for example — Reynolds’ Deadpool performances remain his most popular to date. Among other characteristics, Reynolds primarily exhibits the traits of cocky white guys with twisted senses of humor to portray the likes of Hal Jordan and Wade Wilson.

Following his superhero era came Reynolds’ action genre ventures. It started off with him getting cast in “Safe House” alongside Denzel Washington. His performance in this action/thriller differed from the films that followed. In place of Reynolds’ comedic character traits were sharp edges of fear and little to no room for fun. Consequently, Reynolds moved on to more blockbuster films that made room for his predilection for redundancy. “6 Underground” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” franchise serve as perfect examples of this.

One would think that a multibillionaire head of a modern-day technologically enhanced group of superheroes would have nothing in common with a triple-A rated bodyguard yet to be diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, but Reynolds found a way to make these two characters into the same person. The degree to which the two films would change if these characters were swapped is too small for comfort. Reynolds is obviously stuck in a rut that belittles the effort he puts into his craft.

Even though he’s the favored protagonist in the majority of his flicks, the characters Reynolds plays are hardly ever multidimensional. Despite having the most conspicuous face on his movie posters, Reynolds’ roles are often superficial and end up doing more for the growth and development of other characters than for his own. The lack of necessity and variety in Reynolds’ roles mean that audiences are left with low expectations for his work.

Part of what drives this trend and keeps people attending showtimes at theaters for movies like “Free Guy” is how enjoyable audiences still find his performances. His fans have become as accepting of his blandness as he has become adjusted to his comfort zone. Reynolds may be putting on the same show under a different name, but it is that comical escapism that charmingly entertains and fulfills the low expectations of viewers everywhere.

Writer Profile

Fatima Sani

Rollins College
Psychology with a Creative Writing minor

Fatima Sani is a New York-born Nigerian storyteller attending college in Florida. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories when she’s not intensely analyzing movies and television series. Her favorite place in the world is anywhere family can be found and she believes the beach is prettiest in the early mornings.

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