OP-ROB RATING: BUST
“Hardcore Henry” is an action film directed by Ilya Naishuller that was entirely shot using a GoPro camera. From start to finish it is in first-person point of view, much like a video game. The main character is Henry, a man living in the future who awakens in a hovering medical laboratory and with an arm and a leg missing. Estelle, (Haley Bennett) a woman dressed in a white lab coat, proceeds to attach Henry’s missing limbs with mechanical replacements. While Estelle works on Henry, she explains that he has amnesia due to the accident that resulted in his injuries. She also explains that they are husband and wife, even though he cannot remember. Estelle leads Henry into a separate room in the laboratory where his “speech module” is to be installed. However, as the technicians prepare to give the main character a voice, a group of heavily armed soldiers break into the lab and kill everyone with the exception of Henry and Estelle. These men are led by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a telekinetic, sociopath who maliciously wants to steal Henry’s technology in order to create his own army of super soldiers. In the commotion, Henry and Estelle escape the lab in an escape pod, that crash lands on a busy freeway below. However Akan and his soldiers soon catch up with the couple and Henry is blasted off of the freeway after being shot by a taser. This leaves Henry separated from Estelle and on the run from Akan and his soldiers.
“Hardcore Henry” has minimal plot, minimal character development, and minimal believability. However, in the case of this film none of those shortcomings matter. The POV filming technique and non-stop action are supposed to be enough. “Hardcore Henry” is a one trick pony through and through. While the POV filming compliments some scenes well, for the most part it acts as a negative, making simple scenes annoying and even unbearable to watch. For instance, when Henry grapples with a mercenary in a one-on-one melee, the POV works fantastically. In the skirmish Henry punches and grabs at the man who is suddenly shot by a sniper, and his head explodes right in front of the audience. It’s a shocking sequence made even more effective by the POV. On the other hand, the film is full of chase sequences that are enough to give anyone a headache. The cuts are choppy as Henry runs from point A to point B jumping over stuff and occasionally falling down. The constant shaking drains from the environment in which the story takes place. A film technique designed to put the viewer in the shoes of the subject does exactly the opposite in these frantic sequences. Henry is running and fighting for the majority of the movie, and this makes it very hard to get a grip on any particular setting. Some viewers may find the POV more agreeable than others, but there is no denying that is robs the viewer of a concrete and omniscient eye.
“Hardcore Henry” is also too hard-core for its own good. There is a numbing effect to the violent action and loud noises. If you received a nickel for every bone Henry breaks throughout the movie you would easily refund your ticket. Aside form hand-to-hand combat; there is an abundance of explosions and almost non-stop gunfire. By the end of the film, Naishuller has to resort to pure absurdity to illicit a fitting grand finale. The last fifteen minutes of “Hardcore Henry” are so over-the-top, it proves nothing except for Naishuller’s lack of craft and judicious use of violence in his film. A great director can make your ears ring for days with a single, well placed gunshot. Anyone who saw “10 Cloverfield Lane” would know.
Lost in the scuffle of “Hardcore Henry” is an entertaining performance delivered by Sharlto Copley as Henry’s ubiquitous fighting partner and advocate, Jimmy. Most of the time Jimmy gives Henry information and saves him from various situation, each time reappearing as a new version of himself ranging from a Russian homeless man to a Michael Jackson enthusiast. Copley is lively and refreshing whenever he shows up, yet his sporadic appearances often feel wasted when the action starts up again.
However, one could argue that “Hardcore Henry” serves its purpose, and stays true to the one trick of POV action. Perhaps the film is supposed to be excessive and unrelenting in its ferocity. Even in this aim, “Hardcore Henry” pales in contrast to films that have followed the same formula. Director Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2: Berendal” are both similar to “Hardcore Henry” in that they are driven by action. Storyline and character development get tossed in the process. Unlike Henry, Evans’ characters fight using martial arts techniques that are a marvel to watch. “Hardcore Henry” is brutish in comparison. Most of the time Henry shoots his enemies, and on occasion rips their hands apart gripping their fingers like two ends of a wishbone.
Ultimately, “Hardcore Henry” doesn’t put enough support around its POV focus to make a worthwhile full-length feature film. The trailer is far more enjoyable than the hour and a half slog. Seeing one fight sequence in “Hardcore Henry” is to see them all. For some people, the action may be enough to entertain, but this film is as voiceless and forgettable as its main character.