Hardcore Henry, 2016
Written and Directed by Ilya Naishuller.
Starring Sharlto Copley, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky, and Tim Roth.
A first-person action film from the eyes of Henry, who’s resurrected from death with no memory. He must discover his identity and save his wife from a warlord with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.
Hardcore Henry is a challenging movie to review, primarily due to the fact that while it indisputably is a revolutionary cinematic experience, it is absolutely not for everyone. Yes, it is the world’s first POV film (let’s be real though, it’s a First Person Shooter video game disguised as a movie) and deserves a glowing amount of praise for all of the dangerously tricky stunt-work involved (it’s a crime that the movie doesn’t acknowledge whoever plays Henry as an actual credited actor), the solid cinematography and editing capturing the mayhem from a GoPro camera, and its generally bonkers tone, but no amount of positive remarks in the universe that could be drawn attention to will make the movie tolerable for someone not familiar with this style of movement. An overwhelming portion of moviegoers that decide to check out Hardcore Henry will admittedly find it wholly disorienting to their vision, instilling a strong sense of motion sickness, subsequently making them despise the flick.
Everyone else though; they are going to love it.
Hardcore Henry fully embraces video game culture and tropes (more specifically, that of First Person Shooters) to the point where the movie actually begins with a typical body movement tutorial. Henry’s wife tells him to squeeze a lemon, look around the room, and eventually has the other scientists begin to pick out a voice for the newly rebuilt half-man half-machine. Of course, Henry doesn’t actually get a voice; during the procedure is when shit hits the fan, obviously done so the film could have a silent protagonist like many of the games in the genre the movie is drawing influence from.
Even the numerous action sequences (and trust me, Hardcore Henry is Terminator 2: Judgment Day levels of nonstop action) all feel like they are inspired from a particular video game set-piece. There are chases (both on foot and in vehicles) through the crowded streets of Moscow, shootouts framed around storming large complexes filled with generic disposable henchmen, brutal CQC combat, a segment requiring sniper rifles, and everything else you would expect from the latest installment of similar gaming romps.
The good news is that the filmmakers successfully find ways to avoid many of the scenes feeling like a lifeless retread of action spectacles you could just pick up and play yourself. Most of this comes in the form of Henry’s new unlikely partner Jimmy, a British man offering help, but not before repeatedly dying in some hilarious manner and reappearing in the movie again using a different body. Jimmy takes on the form of everyone from hippies to metal-heads to punk rockers to spies, and giving credit where credit is due, Sharlto Copley runs with it, delivering infectiously fun performances as his own ensemble. There is some mystery as to how he accomplishes all of this, which the movie definitely gives answers to, but like most everything else about the plot of Hardcore Henry, it is a muddled afterthought with little effort actually put into explaining things cohesively, and in a way that actually serves use to the plot on an emotional level.
Getting audiences to root for an amnesiac taking on an army to rescue his wife from an evil warlord seems like an easy thing to do, but Hardcore Henry surprisingly doesn’t do much to raise the stakes and make you fear for the beauty’s safety. All we know is that she brought him back from death with science, has an ethereal quality to her appearance, and wears white not just because she is a scientist, but I’m assuming to associate her character with good. It’s easy to come to this conclusion considering that the film’s villain, Akan, unashamedly wears red. Yeah, the movie isn’t very subtle about anything.
Still, Akan makes for an over-the-top yet terrifyingly nefarious foe (he’s like something ripped out of an Anime), thanks to his menacing characteristics and telekinesis powers, which he of course uses to kill people in very sadistic ways. Practically the only thing keeping people invested into the tiniest of plot details present will be how evil and easy he is to hate. It’s a shame his screen time is limited with only one true fight between the two. Unfortunately, the movie also takes a very dumb route during its closing moments; the twist actually works on a thematic level but makes no sense whatsoever in the context of everything that has happened leading up to the showdown.
Regardless, just leave your brain at the door. Hardcore Henry is stylistic and refreshing to the point where it has literally birthed a new genre. Usually when a movie does something unique, we collectively groan that 100 other movies are going to come along attempting to ape that success, but in the case of this movie, it is actually something to welcome with open arms. Sure, Hardcore Henry has no story and is as dumb as a high-school jock, but there is endless potential for what else can be done. Maybe a POV movie with an actual plot for starters. It’s also pretty tough to hate a movie with a rocking good soundtrack that sets a fight against a massive clone army to Queen.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★