If you’ve never heard of “Hardcore Henry,” you’re probably not the target audience for the film. This highly specialized visual adrenaline rush will undoubtedly play well to the extreme sports crowd as well as lovers of all things camp. It feels like a classic Troma movie but with a (relatively) bigger budget. The film is a hard R with drug use, sex, profanity, non-stop brutal, bloody violence and an abundance of ruthless mayhem. It’s part action, part thriller, part adventure, and part sci-fi / fantasy. It’s similar to the “Hitman” movies but less nuanced.
The story is weak and the characters are mostly throwaways, but the film’s attempt to reinvent the action film with its original first-person style is at least interesting. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would feel like to be a stuntman (or hardened criminal), this is the film for you. You are watching right along through the eyes of talented stunt professionals as they fling themselves off rooftops, out of the sky, and inside cars that are being wrecked.
Everything takes place through the point of view of Henry, a half-man / half-robot resurrected from the dead by a maniacal telekinetic scientist Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) to become a killing machine. Henry takes survival advice from paralyzed scientist Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and his virtual reality personas, all manifesting as alternate versions of his personality (another enjoyable plot device). Henry assaults his way out of all sorts of impossible scenarios in memorable settings that run the gamut from a laboratory to a forest to a whorehouse.
The gimmick is a lot of fun and never gets tiresome. What does get tedious is the overuse of shaky handheld cameras. Much of the movie made me feel as though I were in an earthquake, making even Paul Greengrass look like a grounded, single still camera experimental filmmaker. “Henry” rocks, rolls and shakes so much that at times I had to look away because I felt so queasy. Get ready to have a headache when it’s all over. Because of all the movement, a good majority of the film made me feel like I was doing nothing more than sitting around watching a buddy play a first person shooter video game. All the hand-held camera work is unnecessary and the film would have earned a higher rating from me if director Ilya Naishuller had toned it down a bit.
The movie isn’t great but it’s still quite an achievement, and I’ll give credit where credit is due: some of the action sequences are truly inspired, a few causing me to clap and woot (including a particularly amusing high speed road chase). The movie is action packed, quite humorous, and very, very bloody.
Viewers with weak stomachs need not apply: prepare yourself for savage beatings, hatchet hackings, sword stabbings, shattered glass eye gouging, bare-handed penis ripping (yep), strangulation, ribcage cracking, heart removing, face slicing, choking, flame thrower burning, bullet spraying, and much more. To call this film violent is an understatement. There’s a ton of hardcore blood and gore, evidence that “Hardcore Henry” more than lives up to its title.
“Hardcore Henry” is a novel idea for a film. The entire movie is shot in first-person style, much like a first-person shooter video game, where you are Henry, and you experience the movie’s events as him.
As the picture opens, you wake up in a lab and see a woman who tells you she’s your wife. You’ve been terribly maimed in an incident that also caused you to lose your memory. You’ve lost your arm and your leg, but your scientist-wife tells you that she’s given you new, upgraded bionic appendages to replace them. As the lab is infiltrated by a group of baddies, you escape and begin testing out your new abilities.
It’s a neat idea for a movie — particularly a gory action flick — but it is a bit of a challenge to watch. The camera shakes, shimmies, and sways as you run, jump, fight, get shot at, ride, dodge explosions, and the like. I’m not particularly prone to motion sickness, but after a while the first-person style made even me a bit queasy. When you add that to fast-cutting action sequences (which you must know by now I hate because they are lazy filmmaking), you have the perfect recipe for causing vertigo or at the very least, a mild headache.
The storyline is just interesting enough to hold attention, but it’s not particularly compelling. The actors (led by “District 9” and “Chappie” alum Sharlto Copley) are good enough to get the job done. Only one scene – featuring a man with multiple clones of himself that he controls doing a musical dance sequence – stands out as particularly unique or memorable.
Ultimately, “Hardcore Henry” is a neat gimmick movie, but that’s about all it is. If you’re intrigued by the first-person concept, then it’s worth checking out. Otherwise, it’s not a film I would recommend.