The first person POV film Hardcore Henry follows the eponymous character (here, the camera is a character) after an unexplained accident renders him maimed. Given cybernetic enhancements to essentially his entire body in a series of jump cuts, Henry must fight to save the wife (Haley Bennett) he doesn’t remember from the corporation that provided the parts that built him.
For the most part, it is your basic action movie plot: the untethered yet reluctant hero, the damsel in distress, the rugged in-the-know guru (or about a dozen of them), and the clearly immoral villain.
The gimmick, then, is the cinematographic choices. The real question, then, is: Is this a gimmick film? The answer is: Mostly no.
The cinematography is, by design, limiting. To make up for that, the film uses dynamic lighting, fast motion, and sound cues. The sound cues in particular lead to some clever non-diegetic moments of humor. There are other instances of this meta-humor elsewhere, and it is effective across the board. Not to mention that the humor is a good pallet cleanser sprinkled in around the rabid bloodshed that occurs almost relentlessly throughout this movie.
Highly mobile camera marks this intensified continuity editing film on steroids, and it is as dizzying as one might think. However, it isn’t sickening. For the most part. The camera is never so erratic that it becomes hard to understand what is unfolding on screen, which is something that can’t be said for some action movies today. This is a good thing, because the stunt choreography is impeccable. Although there are times when the CG-enhanced stunts aren’t comprised of particularly good CG.
If you are looking for a hyper-violent adrenaline fix, this movie is the perfect choice. Hardcore Henry is like if Crank had a baby with GoldenEye 64, and that baby developed an amphetamine addiction very early on in life.
As a film, though, Hardcore Henry struggles to transcend a conventional action movie narrative by using a sci-fi bent. While turning this conventional narrative on its head is all well and good (and makes for some interesting character dynamics), not enough is explained or worth explaining to justify throwing some of these elements in.
Instead of this exposition, the film abandons all hope of a cohesive narrative to make way for break-neck pacing, and this feels by design. The film cares more about blistering entertainment than story, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The movie chooses not to take itself seriously, and that is the mindset a viewer needs to be in going in. The film is kind of like a speeding train: you’re either on board or you need to get the hell out of the way, because it isn’t afraid to hit you.
One person to commend in the making of this film is Sharlto Copley. He is literally transformative as a series of characters with varying accents and quirks. It is a tour de force performance from Copley.
Hardcore Henry likely won’t go over well with those with motion sickness or people who can’t handle in-your-face style gore. Otherwise, it is an interesting film experiment that we likely have not seen the last of, so you might as well see the original before sad, watered-down carbon copies start appearing and ruin all the fun.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)