Title: Hardcore Henry
Release Date: April 8th, 2016
Studio: STX Entertainment
Directed By: Ilya Naishuller
Release Format: Theatrical
Have you ever tried bashing your head in with a hammer while doing a backflip and throwing yourself down the stairs, only to get up and run out of your house into oncoming traffic on the freeway during rush hour, all with a camera strapped to your face? Well, my friends, I sure haven’t but, after a single viewing of Hardcore Henry, I wish I had. Why? Because I’m fairly certain I could have gotten the same experience out of it. Ya know what? No, I take that back. I would have at least had an interesting story to tell if I survived the traffic. Well, I just survived Hardcore Henry and, needless to say, the word “Interesting” can just chuck itself out the damn window.
Hardcore Henry is a “film”, and I use that term loosely, shot entirely from a 1st-person perspective, giving the audience the chance to act as the protagonist. You, the viewer, are essentially Henry, as the film never once shows his face. It doesn’t even bother to list off the actor playing him in the credits. Strangely enough, I find this rather fitting as the title character has absolutely no character to speak of. In order for me to imprint myself onto a character like this, I should, at least, know something about who he is. All the film gives us is that he was an assassin who was blown up and transformed into a cyborg. So, think Robocop, only not as fun, memorable or well-written. There is no personality to Henry, there is no reason for me to care about Henry, there is nothing about Henry’s backstory that makes a lick of sense so, I have to ask; Why would I want to be Henry? In all fairness, they try to give him something to fight for in the beginning but the outcome of it is so painfully obvious that I’m still wondering why the hell I was supposed to care about any of it.
I challenge any moviegoer to try and comprehend the plot of this movie. If you thought the plot of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was hard to follow, you people are going to have a field day just racking your brains around whatever the hell is going on here or, to put it more accurately, whatever the hell isn’t going on here. You could make a drinking game out of it. Take a shot of whiskey for every plot-hole and inconsistency and, I promise you, you’ll probably be dead in under and hour. Funny enough, the movie actually starts out perfectly fine. We see Henry wake up to discover that he has no memory, that he can’t speak and that Estelle, the scientist working on him (played by Haley Bennet), is his wife. Okay, not a bad start. Then the villain showed up at the ten-minute mark and Hardcore Henry took a direct nosedive into ShakyCamLand. The film has little-to-no narrative focus from that point on because it’s too busy focusing on its aesthetics and cheap gimmicks to give a second thought to silly things like plot or character development; things that it seems to treat as a lesser to its aesthetic when it should be the other way around. The film is so pre-occupied with getting to its next random action scene as quickly as possible, that it fails to deliver a compelling narrative to justify it; or compelling characters for that matter.
Then there is the editing. The best way I can describe the editing of this film is to imagine the cinematic equivalent of a seizure. From scene to scene, from plot point to plot point, the editing is so jarring that it was near impossible to understand anything going on. The transitions from scene to scene are done poorly to the point of frustration. The action that it tries to convey with its 1st-person “storytelling”, another term I’m using loosely, is, for the most part, awful. The reason for this is all the shaky cam that the film implements. It wants to be so realistic and avant-guard that it forgets that for an audience to appreciate the action, it helps if the audience can actually see what is going on. Remember the action scenes in “Alex Cross” or all the running scenes in “The Blair Witch Project”? Imagine an entire film of that. Nothing but constant shaking, back and forth, with no narrative purpose whatsoever. In fact, after witnessing the editing in this film, I am fully prepared to deliver a public apology to Zack Snyder. The bad editing in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice only resulted in bad pacing. The bad editing in Hardcore Henry resulted in my eyes hurting and an intense case of motion sickness.
The movie is clearly trying to look like a video game with its 1st-person aesthetic. However, it seems that somewhere along the way, the director forgot that he was making a movie and not a video game. Hell, even some of the worst 1st-person shooter games I’ve played have given me something resembling characters and development. For example, to this day, I consider the worst game in The Resident Evil Franchise to be Resident Evil: Survivor (although, in all fairness, I’ve never played Dead Aim or Gaiden). Survivor was a first person shooter where you got the experience of being the hero. The game was stupid, often lame in its storytelling and far too easy to beat (my record time is 1 hour and 21 minutes), but it had one thing this movie didn’t have; a character that mattered. Ark Thompson in Resident Evil: Survivor is given more personality and depth in the first half hour of gameplay than Henry is given in the full runtime of this trite and, for the love of god, Ark Thompson had frickin’ amnesia. Ark isn’t a perfect character, by any means, but I would rather waste my time playing Ark than watching Henry.
While Hardcore Henry tries to simulate the experience of a 1st-person shooter, it completely fails in doing so. Why? Well for one, in case you aren’t aware, we, as an audience, can’t play a character in a movie. We choose what to do with a character in a video game, a luxury we, sadly, do not receive while watching a film. Watching Hardcore Henry was like watching someone else play a video game that I was forever forbidden to play or going over to visit that one friend who refuses to surrender the controller (I’m lookin’ at you, Collin MacGregor. You watch yourself). Secondly, when the character that I’m “supposed” to imprint on gets injured or shot, I should feel sympathy, worry or even a small state of panic for him. Instead, whenever that happened, I sat there looking at the screen and expecting the words “Insert Coins” to appear on the bottom of it. So, even in regards to its intentions to simulate a 1st-person shooter, it falls flat on its ass.
As for the rest of the characters, the only one worth anything was Jimmy (played by Sharlto Copley), who, while still written horribly with an inconsistent demeanor, seemed to be the only one having any sort of fun in the entire thing. Even in the worst movie (*cough* Chappie *cough*), Sharlto Copley is always enjoyable to watch. The man is a fantastic talent and when he’s on screen, he is clearly giving the role everything he has. Jimmy is essentially a character who comes on screen at the convenience of the plot to help our hero through his journey, although you aren’t quite sure if he’s on your side or not. If this character sounds familiar, he probably should. You may actually recognize him from… well, to be perfectly honest, every single video game in existence! Jimmy, while the only enjoyable character in this mess is nevertheless a walking, talking cliche that we’ve seen a million times. On the bright side, at least, he made me laugh on occasion.
Speaking of laughter, the villain of this movie, Akan (played by Danila Kozlovsky), is an absolute joke of a character. There is nothing plausible or interesting about his plan, there is nothing remotely fun about him and, as far as I’m concerned, you can just rename him “Generic Evil Foreign Villain #247-B”. Oh, I’m sorry, he does have a random superpower to levitate people in the air that is never once explained in the entire runtime, so feel free to add “Mutant” somewhere in that title. Don’t worry,the film wasn’t released by Fox so you won’t get sued for doing so.
Is there anything positive I can take away from this movie, other than Sharlto Copley’s performance. Well, the climax is kind of fun. It was really the only time when the editing and shaky cam seemed to slow down so that I could appreciate what I was watching. The last ten minutes of the movie, especially the final shot of it (which is admittedly hilarious), rocked. But other than that, I can’t think of any good reason to see this movie in the theater. Hardcore Henry has a select few moments of merit and nothing else going for it. The plot makes no sense, the characters seem like cheap cardboard cutouts for the most part, the action is nauseating, the editing sporadic and it seems to have no idea if it wants to be a film or a video game. Then again, what can I expect from the protege of Timur Bekmambetov, the director who butchered Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on the big screen. The fact that he is allowed to teach new directors is, frankly, quite sad.
Take my advice, if you want to see a movie where you get to experience the world of a video game, watch Tron. If you want a movie with great characters, development, and heart that structures itself like a video game with a brilliantly original aesthetic, watch Scott Pilgrim vs The World. If you want a hardcore, balls to the wall action flick, featuring a protagonist who was killed and given a second chance at life as a cyborg, watch Robocop. If you want a recent film that does something inventive with the action movie genre, effectively turning it on its head in ways you can’t even begin to imagine, watch Deadpool. If you want the experience of a 1st-person shooter video game, then please play a 1st-person shooter video game. I don’t care which one because, to be perfectly honest, any game you decide to play will be a more fulfilling experience than Hardcore Henry.
- Acting: With the exception of Sharlto Copley, every actor in the film seems to be working on autopilot.
- Cinematography: The shaky cam is grating and hurt my eyes. When the shaky cam takes a short breather in the climax, the action looks great but it’s too little, too late at that point. The 1st-person aesthetic of the film doesn’t service as much as it hurts it.
- Story: A brutal mess from inciting incident to finish, the film seems to go out of its way to cementing the fact that it’s own plot makes zero sense.
- Characters: Most of the characters are annoying and one-note with no development. Even the one enjoyable character, Jimmy, has no development and the one reason he’s enjoyable is because the actor playing him is.
- Sharlto Copley's Performance
- The Last Ten Minutes
- A Few Humorous Moments Scattered Throughout
- Non-Existant Narrative
- Relentless and Sporadic Shaky Cam
- Bad Editing
- No Real Characters Or Development
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.