We are in the future the 90’s dreamed of. Self driving cars are becoming a reality, not unlike one of the taxi’s from 1990’s Total Recall, minus the irritating robot driver. We’re even getting to see rockets landing in the middle of the ocean without crashing into the water. There aren’t many adolescent teen boys excited about those things though. At least they’re not as excited for those as they will be with Virtual Reality. Various companies are pushing towards this being the next big thing in the visual realm. What is it like to watch a movie through those glasses or whatever type of monitor is used specifically to fit around your head? What about having control of what happens in that virtual reality? Hardcore Henry is virtual reality, without the fun of choosing the outcome. But it certainly tries to exceed your expectations of how gnarly things are going to get.
Starring various stuntmen, along with first time feature director Ilya Naishuller as Henry; Hardcore Henry wants you to be in its video game. Beginning with close-ups of multiple injuries, some fatal, in a red backlight, Naishuller sets a tone of juvenile recklessness bordering on fetishistic that rarely lets up throughout the course of Henry’s 96 minute running time. We jump into the resurrection of Henry after what’s said to be a very graphic beating he went through prior to the events of the film. Not unlike Halo or Portal, Henry (and the audience) learn of his abilities or inabilities and his marriage with Estelle (Haley Bennett), a scientist reviving him in her floating fortress that serves no purpose other than setting up a skydiving sequence. But this is after we’re introduced to the villainous Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a telekinetic Russian albino with immense anger for Henry, an anger that is never properly explained.
From there, Hardcore Henry gives no shits about where this story goes or if it means anything in the end. Henry jumps from a high speed chase in the side-car of a motorcycle firing a heavy machine gun, to coming in contact with a tank in the middle of a field. Many action sequences are absolutely absurd (why did someone decide to bring a tank to an open field? And why would they bring it to take down one person?), but that ends up being one of the big charms of the film. Naishuller goes full id on the hyper-masculinity of the universe set up here. Starting with ninja strippers to power-ups through pumps of adrenaline, the director cares about the experience of being in the eyes of the indestructible Henry first and foremost, and everything else comes second.
The main problem with this action film is the majority of it is quite boring. Despite the frequent excellence of Sharlto Copley as the immortal Jimmy, Naishuller’s inventiveness is lacking. Featuring the same kind of action we see in most action movies, the first-person view isn’t enough to make it any more interesting. That’s not to say the action isn’t well done. With the multitude of stuntment, including a paraglider and a parkourist(?), it’s astonishing to see the amount of work that goes into the stunts and gives a greater appreciation to stunt work in film. We see a few cool deaths (one involving a windshield wiper), but nothing particularly new. When the film kicks into the final third is when things get really fun.
The batshit insanity of the final third is so inspired that it’s hard not to laugh with glee at times. By the time the end came, I left the theatre with a large grin on my face. Henry finally accepts the insanity of its concept and goes all out. Ditching any sort of grounded reality, Naishuller is free to add in the occasional bad special effect or inventive kill that would have taken us out of the film earlier. Like some of the best first person shooters, Henry fulfills his potential as the empty and bland badass.
Hardcore Henry features a flashback involving Henry when he was a child and getting his toy destroyed by a couple bullies, leading to Henry getting beat up. His Father (Tim Roth in a minute long cameo) proceeds to berate Henry for being “a pussy” asking him “you going to lay there, swollen and blood in your mouth or you going to stand up and spill theirs?” A character in the film creates different versions of himself mostly due to not getting erections, but occasionally to kick ass. Every character is measured by how tough they are and must be seen in prime condition to be considered a “real man.” That only leads further into the frequent misogyny, Naishuller (also the sole writer) frequents in the offensive and gives no shits about the feelings of the people watching.
I don’t want to ignore its sense of humor, not unlike Crank, the Jason Statham vehicle with a similar video game premise (arguably a better use of the video game style). Copley delivers a majority of laughs as the ever changing Jimmy. First a cop, then a bum, going all the way to a British soldier that serves the final third with the biggest laughs, Copley adds a levity to the already absurd film. Without his always welcome comedic presence, Henry would have suffered greatly.
Despite the testosterone filled tone, Hardcore Henry doesn’t worry if it overwhelms you. It may have been even better with more craziness, but by the time climax happens, I felt happy to have suffered through the boring hour that preceded the insane ending. Not for the squeamish or people prone to motion sickness (the Go-Pro camera work will be nauseating to a decent portion of the audience), Hardcore Henry doesn’t hide its shit eating grin. It may not be a “film” per se, but it’s hard to deny that it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
- Action is competently directed and genuinely thrilling at times
- Sharlto Copley steals the show as Jimmy
- The final third has some of the best action I've seen in a while
- Hardcore Henry is ruthless and has no qualms about offending anyone
- For an action movie, it's not exciting for the majority of the film
- There is no in depth story that could have been added to the film
[…] way into something special. Then we get the first-person experiment, Hardcore Henry (our review here). Never quite living up to the ambitious concept, we can always rely on the magical Sharlto Copley […]
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