“This is war baby!”
Hardcore Henry could have easily been terrible. An action movie filmed from the first person perspective has never been done before, and the POV genre of film isn’t exactly known for its high quality, with the large majority of films that fall into this category being garbage. With a few exceptions (Cloverfield, Chronicle, etc.) being a POV film was almost assuredly the kiss of death.
This was definitely not the case for Hardcore Henry.
One thing’s for sure: this movie is nuts. Hardcore Henry tells the story of well, Henry. Henry has lost his memory, and is being kept alive by various cybernetic implants. How or why is left unknown to Henry, and by extension the audience. Shortly after Henry wakes up, a murderous and crude telekinetic man named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) attacks Henry and kidnaps his wife. Utilizing his cybernetic implants, Henry then embarks on a cartoonishly violent rampage through Moscow. With the help of the mysterious Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) Henry seeks to enact revenge on Akan and save his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) in 96 minutes of almost non stop action.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Hardcore Henry is a really dumb movie. And I mean that as a compliment. It does not take itself seriously in the slightest. Director Ilya Naishuller intentionally crafted everything in this film to be as over the top as possible, the action, the violence, the humor, the characters, and the story itself are all pushed to the extreme in terms of campy-ness. Hardcore Henry’s tongue is rooted firmly in cheek. I had a great time watching this movie, it’s pure self indulgence is so charming and satisfying, it’s hard not to get something out of the film.
We experience the film completely from completely through the literal eyes of Henry. In a sense Henry and the audience are one in the same. This makes the impact of all the first person action that much more effective as we are experiencing it right alongside Henry. The film almost acts like the church scene from Kingsmen extended to a feature length film. Hardcore Henry is seriously unrelenting, once it picks up speed it never slows down until the credits roll. Except maybe during the musical number in the middle of the film. I’m completely serious.
This film possesses some of the best choreographed action I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it’s filmed completely from the first person makes that all the more impressive. I will admit, the film was almost exhausting at some points, just due to how frenetic and fast paced it was, as it leaves you with just enough time to catch your breath in between action set pieces, which become increasingly more ridiculous and over the top. This film could have easily turned into an incoherent mess, but I was easily able to follow all the insane stunts that were occurring throughout the film.
Watching Hardcore Henry felt like I was experiencing a live action video game, which makes sense as it was so obviously inspired by first person shooters. The film is even structured like a video game and incorporates many different tropes from the FPS genre. From the GPS objectives Henry must follow, to the various “boss battles” Henry endures, hell there is even an escort mission. There are plenty of references to specific franchises as well, as I’m pretty sure that the climax of the film takes place on what looks to be a rooftop ripped straight out of a level of Left 4 Dead.
Due to the hyper-intense focus on the groundbreaking action, the story of Hardcore Henry suffers a bit. It’s pretty paper thin. Akan (who’s actor feels like he was doing his best Tommy Wiseau impression), no matter how ridiculously evil and quirky he was, was pretty shallow and one dimensional, as was Henry’s wife Estelle. The real stand out in the cast however was Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy. Jimmy was actually a really fun and interesting character, and due to circumstances I won’t spoil (although I think it plays on the “re-spawn” trope of video games), it allows Copley to exhibit his range at character acting. He tries his hands at a stereotypical tough guy persona, a coked out maniac, a campy army general, and various other personalities. His performances were so fun to watch, and he was easily the best part of the movie (outside of the action, of course). The small cameo from Tim Roth was pretty cool as well.
Overall Hardcore Henry is an exceedingly entertaining, inventive, crowd pleasing, shallow action film that doesn’t pull any punches whatsoever, and is able to make a joke out of things such as brutal decapitations and other increasingly violent acts, while at the same time treating you to an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. If you’re a fan of video games, insane action movies, Sharlto Copley portraying characters as campy as possible, or any combination of the three, then you’ll get something out of Hardcore Henry. I know I did.