Directed by: Ilya Naishuller
Written by: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrei Dementiev, Darya Charusha, Svetlana Ustinova
(Originally written for Youtube Mar 2 2016, Published Apr 7 2016)
First, a disclaimer. The version of Hardcore Henry I saw was from a preview screening in late February. My impressions are from that version of the film. Now, moving on to the review.
Hardcore Henry, a film basically riding on its first-person gimmick, is a failed experiment. Not because a first-person action film is necessarily a bad idea, but because the film didn’t try to do anything past that.
The story, and using that word is generous; involves the recently revived Henry, back more machine than man, on a quest to save the wife that brought him back from the dead, and kill as many people who make up the evil corporation that took her. Along the way he’s helped by Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, a man who also keeps on coming back to life. Now, I’ve seen a number of excuse plots in my time, but this is by far the worst. Aside from Henry’s initial paper-thin motivation; there’s no cohesiveness between scenes. We literally go from a scene where Henry wakes up after being rebooted to a motorcycle chase going who-knows-where in a single cut. Hardcore Henry doesn’t have a plot so much as a sequence of tangentially related music videos.
The only real character in the whole thing is Copley, who is also the movie’s one ok-ish actor, and who clearly had tons of fun playing his role in as many ways as he possibly could. I can’t tell if Hardcore Henry’s main villain, played by Danila Kozlovsky, is obnoxious because he’s a villain or just because the actor is a douche; and the film’s only major female character is a princess in another castle. By the way, we can add this one to the list of films with a scene in a strip-club just as an excuse to show tits. Hardcore Henry bet everything on its gimmick, and the rest of the film suffers greatly for it.
So, the action. The main reason to see this film. Honestly, it’s very underwhelming. First, just to get it out of the way, the CG in this movie is so grossly cheap looking. It’s honestly distracting how bad all the CG in this one looks. While the action in Hardcore Henry is done from a relatively new perspective, it’s still nothing that hasn’t been done before, and been done better. You get a fair taste of everything from car-chases, gun-fights, parkour, fist-fighting; but none of it is especially creative or memorable. Part of the reason is, because of the first person view, you’re always way too close to the action to make any sense of it. Fighting means a screen full of another guy’s chest. Any climbing means a face-full of wall. And Henry is sliding around, knocked to, or otherwise finds himself on the floor so often you start questioning if he’s supposed to be 10 inches tall. The film’s best moments are when we can feel some real momentum and scope, like the parts where Henry is chasing a guy on top of a bridge or falling from a helicopter; but these moments are rare and never last long enough. The first person perspective also makes the simple filmic act of cutting a total mindfuck. If we’re supposed to be Henry, how can the film justify cutting during an action scene to a different location without having brought us there? Did Henry black-out for a couple seconds or something?
There was one action scene that successfully made me really feel like I was part of the movie and triggered a strong response, but even this one good moment in the film only goes on to expose a greater weakness. The scene involves Henry being cornered in a small space and attacked on all sides, and having to constantly swerve to shoot people coming at him at all angles. It felt appropriately claustrophobic and threating; but then I remembered I wasn’t actually in control – that I wasn’t actually turning around – and I was completely taken out of the film again. And that’s the film’s biggest problem. Hardcore Henry is a video game you’re not playing. Either that or it’s a Youtube video that’s ninety-something minutes too long. Either way, Hardcore Henry is not a good movie. And probably worse, it’s one that squanders an otherwise interesting idea.