Ryan Reynolds was the big surprise guest for Day 1 at the New York Comic Con thanks to Disney’s 20th Century Fox and the studio’s morning preview panel for two films: Matthew Vaughn’s origin-story adventure The King’s Man (which stars Ralph Fiennes) and Shawn Levy’s sci-fi gamer fantasy Free Guy (which stars Reynolds).
Reynolds, famed for his quips both onscreen (the Deadpool films, The Proposal, etc) and on social media, tilted toward the serious while discussing the themes of Free Guy. Reynolds plays a regular-guy bank teller who discovers he’s actually a background character in an open-world video game called Free City, which is about to go offline.
“The movie really spoke to the present moment in a huge way,” Reynolds said of the film, which features performers as both real-world characters and in-game avatars. “We live in really weird times. It’s like, ‘Our top story today: It’s the end of the world. And now, Katie Couric talks to Kylie Jenner and Tyga. What the f*ck!? I feel a kinship to the characters. I feel like a background character in a world that’s happening on an automatic loop.”
Co-stars Jodie Comer (recent Emmy winner for Killing Eve), Joe Keery (Stranger Things), Lil Rel Howery and Utkarsh Ambudkar were also on the panel.
The packed Javits Center Main Theater crowd was treated to fascinating dish about on-set details and bloody tribulations during the making of The King’s Man. The third film’s challenge is to track back in time and shows how the extraordinary group got its start — the assignment is similar to the one Vaughn aced back in 2011 with the release of X-Men: First Class, considered by many to be the best of all X-Movies.
“We’re never gonna win an Oscar, and I never want to watch any of these [recent Best Picture Oscar winners] again but when I was a kid, movies like Lawrence of Arabia, and Dr. Zhivago, you want to watch them again,” Vaughn said, calling King’s Man “a love letter to the movies I loved growing up.”
Toward that end, Vaughn said used the same lens that filmed Lawrence, David Lean’s 1962 classic. Also nodding to the Lean era, Vaughn limited the number of pixel props and drop-in digital fakery. “We tried to do everything in camera,” Vaughn said of the clips, which included exhilarating World War II action and the pristine trappings of the tailor shop. “I love CG but there’s a little too much of it at the moment.”
One thing that wasn’t CG: the physical action, which led to bruises.
“This was a very painful film to make,” said a smiling Djimon Hounsou, who plays a treasured war comrade of Fiennes’ Duke of Oxford. “It was quite a challenge and I was hurt from the first week on. Harris was hurt too,” he added, citing Harris Dickinson, who plays the Duke’s son and protégé Conrad (essentially, the kind of role that Taron Egerton played in the first two films). Confirmed Vaughn of Dickinson, who smiled from his place on the panel, “There was one scene where Harris was cut, and he said, ‘Keep filming. Use the blood.’”
It was Fiennes, the Oscar-nominated actor and a core alumnus of the Harry Potter ensemble, who got the loudest greeting from the crowd. He said he was drawn to the project by the first Kingsmen films. “I very much respected the clever balance of relationship and action,” he said, “and the unusual and original spin on the British spy theme.”
In the third film, a classic collection of rogues attempts to wipe out millions, which leads the Duke and his son to clash over method. That changes when Duke takes him to that infamous tailor shop.
“Conrad is realizing what it means to be a man at a time when you’re being defined by your bravery and ability to fight for a cause,” Dickinson said. “It’s an interesting dynamic.”
Clips showed a hint of Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey and The Crown) who co-stars as Tristan. Tom Hollander pulls Peter Sellers-type duty, playing the roles of George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II; Stanley Tucci is along as Merlin (Mark Strong in the other films).
A similar call to action comes to Reynolds’ Blue Guy, who rises from being, in Levy’s words, “an NPC— a nonplayable character — to something of a superhero, accruing points by being the naïve “nice guy” in the game. “We realized that if you’re living in a video game where anything is possible, then everything is limitless,” Levy added.
The movie also offers a world of references for true gamers, says Ambudkar (a Ninja, a Pokemon and Jacksepticeye are among the characters an observant viewer can pick out). But in the audience-questions portion of the program, the topic turned to Reynolds’ faux feud with Hugh Jackman. A fan invited Reynolds to be his plus-one at tonight’s Jackman concert but the star apologized and said he already had plans. “I’m really sorry; I have an appointment to punch myself in the dick.”