Insert obligatory joke about Hardcore Henry sounding like a porno here. A man named Henry (you/the audience) wakes up one day from the dead in a Russian laboratory. He has no memory at all of how he got there, or how he has become a hybrid of man and robot. He’s been brought back to life by Estelle (Haley Bennett), a scientist who claims she and Henry are married.
As Henry start to adjust to his new cybernetic features, the laboratory is stormed by a group of baddies led by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who somehow has telekinetic powers. They clearly want Henry for a reason, and while he manages to escape, they end up taking his wife in the process. And so, with the help of the seemingly everywhere Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), Henry embarks on a bloody mission to take back his love.
When video games are adapted to films, most video game fans want their their treasured playthings be given the best cinematic treatment possible. That is to say, while playing the game is fun, looking at a film that resembles a video game from start to finish may not be the best thing around. Though not a video game adaption, Hardcore Henry feels like one literally, its presentation completely resembling some of the more popular first-person actioners of recent memory such as Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, and Mirror’s Edge. From complete start to finish.
Props is given to writer/director Ilya Naishuller for committing to a vision. Whether he achieves that vision is up to the viewer. The first person POV may not be aesthetically pleasing throughout, but there are some really impressive highlights, a main one being a chase that comes the truest to capturing the FPS perspective. One might not like the perspective, but it would be wrong to call his effort befitting of a hack; there’s a lot of skill and hard work that went into making this. To yours truly, his vision isn’t fully realized, however, because it isn’t that immersive, which is clearly what the movie is trying to be. Many people have already said it, but it is true. It is one thing to play a video game (especially a first person one), and be into it because one is actually doing the controlling, and it is another thing to watch someone play a video game, which isn’t as fun.
Even when going in with the most minuscule of expectations to Hardcore Henry‘s plot, it actually manages to disappoint more as the runtime goes on, because there is actually some unforeseen potential, in my opinion, that its setup lends itself to. But, whether Naishuller just couldn’t cobble together a good story, or chose not to in an effort to mock similar games for not having one, there’s little to care for after a while.
It’s a probable possibility that I am looking way too much into this, but if there weren’t so much story potential, I wouldn’t be as frustrated. And it is unfortunate, because for having such a small budget, Henry’s got some notable style to it, kind of feeling like a melding of steampunk with psychedelic aspects. Part of it has to be due to the music, which is awesome from a soundtrack and score perspective.
Most of the notable cast, small as it is, is pretty forgettable. Tim Roth is the most famous name to appear, but his screentime is approximately less than five minutes as our father. As a villain, Danila Kozlovsky is certainly hateable, but extremely forgettable, much like Haley Bennett, who might as well be Princess Peach. The one true bright spot is Sharlto Copley, who always seems to be one of, if not the, most memorable piece in a movie. But watching him in Hardcore Henry just makes one wish that he was in something better.
Looking for a film to cure that insomnia? Hardcore Henry really isn’t it. But all of its nonstop, frenetic, well-captured first-person mayhem is actually less interesting than an action fan (at least this one) would hope. It’s the equivalent of a video game that is OK on one playthrough, but has little replay, or in this case—rewatch, value.
Photo credits go to nerdist.com, collider.com, and dorkshelf.com.
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