Innovation is an interesting thing when applied to movies. Sometimes we end up with something as visually stunning as Avatar and sometimes we are stuck with Waterworld. More often than not, however, we fall closer to the middle of an interesting concept with something to be desired in its execution. That sentiment is more or less where I landed in my opinion of Hardcore Henry.
From the opening credits, we are faced with the slow motion visceral type of action that we will be treated to through the films 96 minute run time. And while the opening credit sequence may seem excessively violent, it does play in the film’s favor. Hardcore Henry makes no bones about what it is: a first-person POV movie with extreme violence and video game tropes. If you are not in from the first few moments the movie will do nothing to win you over. It is not a butterfly dancing in the wind to subvert your opinion of what it is. Hardcore Henry is an 18 wheel truck barreling through all obstacles with a similar amount of subtlety. And while this may not play to all audiences, to the people that this movie is designed for, it performs very well.
Similar to Pacific Rim, Hardcore Henry keeps its plot simple. Henry wakes up while being worked on by a beautiful scientist, named Estelle, with no memory of who he is or what has landed him in the predicament of needing to have limbs replaced with robotic prosthetic. The scientist, played by Haley Bennett, informs him that she is his wife and within moments Henry and Estelle are on the run from a group of soldiers being led by a telekinetic psychopath. Along the way he runs into Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, a seemingly un-killable ally in his fight to recover his wife. All this is perfunctory however, as it basically just gives Henry a reason to go through the streets of Eastern Europe rampaging and decimating hordes of enemy goons.
And there is decimation in grand order. From gun play, to hand to hand, the audience witnesses combat in a way that hasn’t been captured since Karl Urban was rampaging in Doom. Even though not every scene seems to have benefited from the use of the first person perspective, especially in the hand to hand combat sequences, on the whole the action is quite effective at delivering some fun and interesting moments. From scaling a building, to a gun fight in a Russian brothel, we are treated to a type of film making that has never been achieved in such a grand scale.
Of course, if you have ever played a first person shooter along the lines of Call of Duty, you will be very comfortable in the visual aesthetics of this movie, but for viewers not as acclimated with the tropes of these games, some of the sequences and scenes could be over kill. And Hardcore Henry does lean very heavily on the video game roots that seem to have inspired it. From the opening sequence of calibrating limbs, which will be all to familiar to gamers as an introduction tutorial of how to move your character, to the instructional portion later in the movie about how to use grenades, it seems to show the filmmakers clearly know what audience they are going after and don’t mind throwing a few winks the audiences’ way.
As far as performances go, Sharlto Copley steals the show as Jimmy. First appearing as a Jason Stathem-esque tough cop, Copley is allowed to play very deep in the character pool. Without giving too much away, we see Copley summarily dispatched over and over again throughout the movie only to appear again as another incarnation, from a homeless man, to a cocaine fueled lecher, to a punk rocker. It is pretty clear that he is having a ton of fun and his performance elevates this movie. Danila Kozlovsky is sufficiently creepy as the main villain, giving all the smarmy grease of an 80’s action bad guy with the tense live wire type performance. Haley Bennett admittedly doesn’t have much to do in the movie, but the scenes she does have she performs well. It never seems like any of the actors are phoning it in, and they are all showing up and having fun with what is a pretty silly conceit.
While the visuals are interesting, the overall plot is by comparison pretty weak. There are a few twists that come into play, but if you are trying the get ahead of the movie in any way you probably will see them coming from early on. But I contend that this is not a movie that is best viewed by trying to out think it. While viewing it, I was able to completely shut off, and just allow the movie to wash over me, and I truly believe that is the best way to enjoy it. This isn’t a movie built to discuss the human condition. Its a fun little action ditty that is trying to present a very old save the princess trope in a new way. Sure, there are parts that could have been polished better, but when people are making something new, I believe that there will always be rough patches on the way to something innovative. With the coming VR generation of tech, it’s movies like this one that will probably be at the forefront of this movement.
Hardcore Henry isn’t going to convert you over to the wonders of the action genre if you aren’t already a fan, nor will it serve as a 100% proof of concept for this type of first person film making, however it is a fun movie with lots of charm and some performances by actors that are clearly enjoying themselves throughout the process. And despite a weak story, the action choreography is enough to keep this movie from feeling overly gimmicky or like a one-trick pony. It is exactly what it claims to be and that is about it, and there is nothing wrong with that.