“Hardcore Henry” will silence any doubters of first-person action films, if said films are done as hilariously well and have jaw-dropping action sequences that spoon-feeds movie-goers with grand-theft auto fan service.
“Hardcore Henry” is a Russian-American science fiction action film, directed by Russian director and screenwriter Ilya Naishuller. The film tells the story of Henry (no last name), who is brought back from the dead as a cyborg with no memory of his past and must save his wife from a psychotic telekinetic warlord.
Pitching “Hardcore Henry” with this description will only attract those with an eye for peculiarity, but this film can relate to other demographics: those who know love, those who gravitate towards underdogs, and those who gain a sudden thrill in grand thefts, fast paced story-telling, and first-person throwdowns with semi-automatics, grenades, and lots of explosions.
Those smart alecks who were looking for something more than a straightforward blend of Mario and Grand Theft Auto were disappointed. I advise those who are interested in this film to not trap yourself in expecting more than what a movie called “Hardcore Henry” would be.
I give props to Naishuller’s idea of filming in first-person because it fits the characterization of Henry, who cannot speak his thoughts to the audience, but can, in fact, take care of himself awesomely well against his eccentric opponents. There is something special in this point of view, for it forces the audience to be in the forefront of the storyline, to be Henry. Similar to first-person shooter games, Hardcore Henry possesses that grittiness, that in-your-face reality when he is gutting another cyborg for its parts, or blowing up a van with himself in it.
Because the movie is filmed in first-person, many critics jumped for the chance to bash this movie for its “shaky cam.” “Hardcore Henry” is filmed with GoPro cameras mounted on “Adventure Masks,” with stabilization systems to limit unneeded shakiness. I will say that the movie does have shakiness, but it is natural shakiness that people witness every day when they walk, run, or move in a swift manner. I give props to this movie’s commitment to making Henry’s movements natural and allowing the audience to still see what is happening.
Other than the action, some of the characters were surprisingly likeable in their own way. Jimmy, played by Sharlto Copley, is the main source of information and communication in the film, engulfing the screen with his random appearances and his one-sided funny conversations with Henry. The film fleshed him out enough so that movie-goers have something more than the explosions to keep them in their seats. “Hardcore Henry” actually dared to have some heart, and it worked.
However, the film had a few cringe-worthy aspects. Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), the psychotic telekinetic warlord, is the center of the over-the-topness. His idiosyncrasies seem too unrealistic, even for a science fiction film such as “Hardcore Henry.” His moments with Henry seem overacted, as though fictional warlords need to be excessively weird. Sadly, Akan’s strangeness does not fit this film and actually takes away from the fact that Akan is supposed to be a sadistic madman who wants to rule the world.
Henry’s wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), is another letdown. She played the “princess peach” character in the circumstance of this movie. However, I am unsure if her poor attempt in expressing her feelings for Henry is supposed to be a red flag or if that is just her characterization. I am going with the initial thought that Naishuller is throwing a beacon of something-is-not-quite-right with Estelle, just to keep an open mind.
“Hardcore Henry” does possess a few plot holes for those kinds of critics to pick at, but this film was created with the purpose to solely entertain its audience with a violent Mario-Grand Theft cocktail of assassinations, explosions, and hilarious moments. Despite the fact that the audience cannot hear or see Henry, they will have no problem rooting for him all the way until the very satisfying end.