Hardcore Henry is a difficult movie to write about. In many ways it’s less of a movie and more of an experience. It takes many of its cues from video games and is a lot like playing a game without a controller.
It’s also difficult to write about because there isn’t really a main character. The entire film is shot from a first-person perspective. The action unfolds from the point of a view of a guy named Henry, but Henry himself really isn’t a character. He has no memories, no voice, and might as well have no face (since the audience never clearly sees what he looks like). The film is unique in that it basically makes the viewer the protagonist.
There are many video games which feature silent protagonists (like most entries in the Call of Duty series), and Hardcore Henry follows in their footsteps. In the first scene, Henry awakens. He is missing an arm and a leg, but no worries, a woman named Estelle who says she is his wife gives him cybernetic limbs to replace his missing ones. These cybernetic appendages are quite a bit more powerful than standard human limbs, and the film’s opening scenes establish that Henry has enhanced strength, speed, and stamina, although he has no memories and remains entirely silent for the duration of the film.
His silence is due to the fact that his speech module is never installed, since the film’s main villain makes an appearance before that can happen. His name is Akan, and he’s a sneering bleach-blond douchebag who looks a bit like Benedict Cumberbatch in that crappy movie about Julian Assange. He also has telekinetic mind powers which are never explained.
The movie is structured much like a video game, as Henry is presented with an escalating series of challenges. Showing up throughout the movie is Sharlto Copley, who has seven or eight different guises and certainly appears to be enjoying himself. Copley’s character is named Jimmy, and the movie makes a running joke of how he keeps getting shot or blown up only to appear again shortly afterward in a different costume with a different personality.
Jimmy supplies Henry with a phone he uses to give Henry instructions periodically on where to go, and even gives him video game-style waypoints. Jimmy also provides much of the weaponry Henry uses, which ranges from shotguns, machine guns and suppressed pistols to rocket launchers, hand grenades and even a creatively-used pair of pliers.
Hardcore Henry is a movie which features a substantial amount of carnage, all of which is seen as if the viewer were the one perpetrating it. There’s a lot of rapid camera movement, and these factors combine to make a movie which will not be to everyone’s tastes. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s sort of like a combination of Crank and John Wick, only in first-person.
The violence and the fast-moving camera didn’t bother me personally (I’ve played a lot of video games so I guess I’m used to both of those), but I have read some reviews of the movie by people who felt reported feeling nauseous. I never did, but I can understand how a movie like this would turn some people off.
But at the same time, this is a kind of movie that has never been done before in the entire history of motion pictures, and that to me is worth something. Yes, first-person camerawork has been used in films before, but never has there been a film shown entirely from a first-person viewpoint, and especially not with the kind of elaborately-choreographed action sequences that Hardcore Henry is chock-full of.
The film has a brisk 96-minute running time, and most of that is crammed full of (literally) head-spinning action. There’s a car chase, a sniper scene, some parkour, an apartment shootout, a brothel shootout, a tank scene, and after all of that, the movie climaxes in a massive battle royale on the roof of main villain Akan’s corporate headquarters, in which Henry battles dozens of cybernetically-enhanced henchmen, along with the telekinetic baddie himself, who is basically the movie’s final Boss character Henry has to defeat in order to beat the game.
There were at least two points during the final battle where I thought okay, that has to be the end, right? But then Henry injects himself with a few shots of adrenaline (like a classic video game powerup) and the carnage continues. Just when you think Henry is finally down for the count, he gets up and just…keeps…going (and yes, the Queen song Don’t Stop Me Now is played at some point during this orgy of chaos and mayhem).
The plot of Hardcore Henry is pretty thin, and exists mostly to initiate the action sequences. There are a couple of twists and turns along the way, and unsurprisingly not all of them make a great deal of sense. But I can forgive the filmmakers for that, since the movie’s technical achievements are still pretty impressive.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of Hardcore Henry might depend on how much you enjoy playing video games. It’s a gimmicky movie for sure, and I’ve read hugely different reviews of it. Some people say you absolutely must see it on the big screen, others say it’s not a movie that was meant to be seen on the big screen. Regardless of which stance you choose, it’s worth seeing for action junkies.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It’s hard to see it giving rise to a new genre of action movies, I don’t know how eager other filmmakers will be to duplicate its style. But I can definitely see it becoming a cult classic in the years to come, because there is nothing else quite like it.