“Hardcore Henry” is about as fun as watching someone else play a video game. And not a particularly good one. Now, before you Let’s Play fans start whining so loud that your mom has to come into the room to check on you, this isn’t what I’m referring to. There’s no humorous commentary, no levity and no fun to be had. “Hardcore Henry” is watching your jerk older cousin play “Call of Duty” while you disinterestedly sit on the couch and contemplate breaking into your uncle’s liquor cabinet.
The movie concerns titular character Henry (played by no one) waking up from a coma to discover his wife (Haley Bennett) has spent the last few months turning him into a cyborg supersoldier. After a cartoonish villain (Danila Kozlovsky) kidnaps his girl and drops Henry into the heart of Moscow, he sets out to find his lost love and exact revenge. However, all this “plot” nonsense is dropped after the first few minutes and the movie descends into scene after scene of ultra-violence with no connecting theme between them, like watching an easily distracted serial killer.
“Hardcore Henry” sells itself on a gimmick: that the entire movie is shot in first-person and plays out like a first-person shooter video game. There’s the tutorial level that makes up the opening scene, the turret sections, cover mechanics, a sniper section, a scene where Henry fights a tank and truly atrocious acting. (I suspect the “hardcore” part of the title is meant to convey that the acting is of the same caliber of an amateur porno.)
The problem is that video games are an interactive medium, and presenting video game tropes in an uninteractive medium misses the point of both movies and video games. It’s a gimmick, and while the gimmick was cool and novel for the first few minutes, stretching a gimmick to almost two hours in lieu of clever writing or engaging storytelling makes the entire film paper-thin. What little writing there is isn’t any better, as the lack of almost any dialogue makes Henry’s machinations and motivations unclear, and all of my questions remain unanswered. If Henry is a cyborg with almost no human tissue, how does shooting himself up with adrenaline actually work? How come the villains’ abilities to bend time and space stop working during the final boss battle? If the villain’s plan succeeded about 15 minutes in, why did he wait around Moscow for Henry to track him down? Why should I care?
There are, however, a few saving graces in this film. It earns its R rating with the sheer amount of visceral violence on display, which was exciting and fresh before the initial shock wore off. The first-person perspective was useful for some of the action scenes, as every hit felt brutal and real. The other shining star was Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who served as the comic relief and the only character with any actual depth and personality. While he was overused and underutilized throughout the film, the comparable excess of everything else in “Hardcore Henry” made his personal gimmick more palpable.
Where the film ultimately falls flat, however, is in its main selling point. While “Hardcore Henry” tries to sell itself as a badass, truly nonstop action flick, everything blurs together into a sea of white noise, with the body count rising so high that I found myself unable to care. You can only watch so many people get mutilated in as many ways before it all seems like a chore. There is nothing wrong with violence, but movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” were smart enough to have scenes of character building and some levity, allowing the tension to rise and rise before boiling over, after which things naturally calm down again. When your entire film is nothing but loud techno and gore, the audience becomes desensitized and loses interest. I was glad for the few minutes where Henry wasn’t actively killing someone, but there are only about three minutes of this in total.
I usually see films with my girlfriend and our good friend Captain Morgan, but upon learning about the first-person gimmick, she decided against going. While I am glad that I didn’t have a drink beforehand, lest I puke on myself, I would have been even happier had I stayed home.