‘Hardcore Henry’ – Combat Evolved (Movie Review)

harcore henry thumbAt its very best, Hardcore Henry has a lot in common with 2006’s Crank, starring Jason Statham. Both films have the sort of logic you would find in a video game and rarely take their foot off the gas to deliver anything all that deep. The difference is getting a personality you enjoy from Statham, while Hardcore Henry plays as a first person shooter, where the hero has no discernible personality. It makes for a decent one-time watch in terms of visual ambition, but the action we see hardly qualifies the film for higher acclaim.


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Following a bizarre cold open that allowed Tim Roth to make a few extra bucks, we are introduced to Henry (portrayed by numerous stunt men). This entire film is shot from his perspective and we quickly learn that he has been turned into a cybernetic super-soldier, as we watch ‘our’ new mechanical body parts get attached. These will come in handy, as Henry will be running, gunning, jumping, and fighting his way through hordes of bad guys in Moscow, as he attempts to save his wife and beat the final boss, who has crazy mind powers.

Henry unfortunately did not get a chance to get new vocal chords (or whatever the film says in this regard) so he is a mute throughout the film, but we do get a key character to work with. Sharlto Copley steps up as Jimmy, a man of seemingly a thousand faces, as Jimmy pops up everywhere, even after clearly dying in some scenes. It is just part of the fun this movie has with its loose sense of logic and clever visual gags.

Writer/director Illya Naishuller certainly does everything he can to keep this film moving, which may come at the expense of character, but that’s not really the movie he is trying to make. Sure, Copley actually has a workout of acting exercises required for him in this film and we also have forgettable supporting turns from Haley Bennett as Henry’s wife/damsel in distress and Danila Kozlovsky as Akan, the very annoying main villain, but this is a film made to emphasize its gimmick.

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Working mostly with GoPro cameras worn on a specially-built rig, the joy of this movie is supposed to come from the first-person perspective and how that works as a cinematic take on action sequences you would commonly see in games such as Call of Duty, Far Cry and Mirror’s Edge. No matter how effective this film is from a story or character level, there is enough to admire in the craft that goes into making a film like this, as we watch stuntmen basically punishing themselves to make this concept work.

Fortunately the action is quite varied. While there are a lot of gunfights in this film, the settings are frequently changing and the way we see combat take place is often handled differently in each sequence.  We go from street level fights to motorcycle chases to multi-level warehouse gun fights to parkour-style foot chases. Some of the action may be understandably jarring, especially early on to those who need to get used to it, but there is a level of care in how each of these sequences was constructed, which I appreciated.

Hardcore Henry also does seem to wear a smirk on its face throughout. While the film eventually wears thin, it never stops having a sense of humor. Copley’s performance certainly helps in this, but even in how the film deals with its general existence, we are aware that Naishuller is fine pulling the strings in a way that highlights the fun you are supposed to be having amidst the chaos. The film doesn’t get any points for its macho sensibilities, but the whole thing is so absurd, it’s hard to hold that against a film that likely delivers what you would be expecting anyway.

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The main issue that holds this film back is how far it tries to go in having some kind of narrative. On the one hand, the final sequence atop a giant skyscraper (the boss level) leads to some neat moments that really feel like a video game coming to life. However, it comes at the expense of having us sit through a lot of exposition. At 70 minutes into a 90 minute film that is as ‘hardcore’ as this, it is hard for me to want to stop and talk about things, instead of just getting on with the action. The implication may be that we have to build this world, but I was not exactly won over in a way where future iterations of this concept seem all that necessary.

It may be a stylistic exercise that actually works on a technical level, but Hardcore Henry never delivered enough to make me think this is the direction films should be going. It’s fine, to say the least, as the film does have a few action bits that impressed me and a gonzo performance from Copley that put a smile on my face, but little else behind it. It is innovative enough, but never excels past being a fun idea that happened to make it to theaters.

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