HARDCORE HENRY Review
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Films and video games developed as sister mediums, but are becoming more like conjoined twins. Video games — or, to their friends, “Vidya” — have benefited in the last ten years or so by drawing from their older sister’s cinematic flair and storytelling in ways that transcend METAL GEAR SOLID 4’s 71-minute cutscene. Film has stepped outside the box as well, opening itself to more experimental ideas and structures — as in EDGE OF TOMORROW’s “live-die-repeat” mechanic and INCEPTION’s “levels” that characters have to “beat.” On the other hand… what began as an informed collaboration has evolved into wearing each others’ clothes and trying to constantly talk at the same time. Simply put, now we have HARDCORE HENRY.
Come play with and/or watch us in IMAX for only $21.99, Danny…
Silent protagonist Henry wakes up memory-free in a lab to his beautiful wife/creator screwing on his robotic leg. She gets kidnapped after about five minutes by not-but-actually the bad guy from FAR CRY 4, and Henry spends the rest of the film trying to rescue her and splattering dudes against the various surfaces of dystopic Russia.
Let’s get the first big question raised by this movie out of the way: Does the GoPro movie make you sick? Yes. It does. A lot. Even viewers with the most ironclad of stomachs will leave this film feeling woozy, and more sensitive types should honestly avoid it in theaters altogether. It really takes about an hour to warm up to the visuals, but the film itself is only ninety minutes in length. This does not necessarily ruin the movie, but it does give a good indication as to why this type of film hasn’t been done before and raises the question of whether or not filmmaking and/or technology are ready for it.
Cinema’s Final Form
But does it work? To a point. The first-person perspective does lend considerable suspense simply through how out of control it feels. Polished, traditional filmmaking lays everything out, showing you exactly everything it wants you to see. HARDCORE HENRY dares you to keep up with it. For a movie that’s nearly impossible to watch at times, it does keep you glued to the screen. On the other hand, action and stuntwork is the backbone of this film, and so much of it gets completely lost in first-person. When Henry parkours up a building, we want to see Henry parkour up a building. Instead, we see blurry concrete and some hands and feet, and hey — what do you know — here we are on top of the building. There are certainly cool moments of Henry getting telekinesis’d by Pagan Min, sliding down ropes, jumping out of planes and such — but these moments never give the same satisfaction as a well composed shot.
Evaluating HARDCORE HENRY on the basis of its story feels a bit like judging a fish by its ability to rise above a gimmick — so it should come as no surprise that the story is formulaic, straightforward, and predictable. From a character standpoint, without really being able to see or hear Henry, it is difficult to get a sense of his growth and change. He certainly learns about the world around him, but lacks concrete character development. The villain is just kind of evil — though admittedly frightening and badass. The real standout is the hilarious, knockout performance by Sharlto Copley as the multi-faceted (in more ways than one) Uncle Jimmy. He earns the price of admission (including the price of Tums) for this film all on his own.
All of this aside, this is a movie that tries to be very little beyond “fun” — and it really does succeed at being fun! You signed up for KILL BILL levels of cartoony violence, and you got guys getting their faces smeared off on concrete walls and being Vitamix’d by a giant fan. HARDCORE HENRY earns consistent laughs through its ridiculousness alone — thanks mostly to Mr. Copley — and often leaves the viewer wondering, “Did that disgruntled concessionist slip something into my gallon-sized Dr. Pepper, or is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing right now?”. Trailers and films have been getting a little liberal with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in recent years, but when it shows up in this movie, it’s difficult not to cheer.
HARDCORE HENRY is not the cinematic gamechanger we were expecting — let Naishuller play around with this for another movie or two and we’ll get to that. It is, however, innovative and a great time, provided it doesn’t make you throw up. If shaky cam and mindless entertainment nauseate you equally, wait until this one hits Netflix. If this does not describe you, HARDCORE HENRY has more than enough action and laughs to negate the drowsiness from the dramamine you’ll have to take to get through it.