Premiered on April 8, 2016. 96 minutes, rated R.
Directed by Ilya Naishuller
Screenplay by Ilya Naishuller, additional writing Will Stewart
My daughter doesn’t play videogames, but she enjoys watching Youtube videos of people who have filmed themselves playing games. I never understood this. The point of a videogame is to play the thing yourself and work out the puzzles to get to the conclusion. She’d rather watch someone make their way through the game like a movie, and that’s the way most of the popular first shooter games are — they’re like movies. Hardcore Henry is a first person shooter movie. If you enjoy watching or playing such games, you’ll enjoy this. If you have no idea what a first person shooter game is, this may not be to your liking.
The entire film is from Henry’s point of view. If he gets punched, the point of view is slammed to the side and then hits the ground; if Henry shoots, stabs, or punches someone, the point of view is of him carrying out carnage; if he runs, jumps, falls, or spins the camera moves as if the audience is looking out through his eyes. This will either be thrilling or nauseating. I tried to get my wife to go with me to see this film, but she gets sick on motion simulation rides, like Star Tours, and The Blair Witch Project had her leaving the room after a half an hour, so this film was not an option for her. I wasn’t nauseated by the camera work of the film, but it did get a little boring at times.
The story revolves around the character of Henry (Don’t ask about his background, there are teases of one, but nothing is revealed of his having one) who wakes up in a laboratory unable to speak. He’s missing his left arm and left leg; how he lost them is never revealed. Attractive scientist Estelle, played by Haley Bennett, gives him a robotic arm and leg and tells him that she’ll restore his memories soon, but first she has to get his implants functioning. During this process, she reveals that they’re married, but Henry doesn’t remember her. They go into a room with two other scientists and are about to install his voice, when sirens and red lights go off. They’re been invaded by Akan, an albino madman who looks and acts as though he’s walked out of an anime movie, and his heavily armed goons. Danila Kozlovsky plays the role of Akan with relish, but there’s a lot about his character that’s not explained, chiefly how he has telekinetic abilities. This isn’t a spoiler, it happens within the first ten minutes of the film, but it certainly upped the cheese factor. Especially at the end, when he does something unexplainable at the end of the film. It had me wanting to yell out, “Testuo!” but only old fanboys like me would have gotten the reference. Henry makes his escape from this villain, not knowing why he’s wanted, and in the process is separated from Estelle.
Like a videogame, Henry is guided on his journey by strangers who pop in and out of the film, telling him where to go, either in person or via phone. When Henry takes too long at one task, he gets a phone call telling him to hurry; this is ripped right out of a first person shooter game. The movie took off when Henry encounters Dmitry, played by Andrei Dementiev. This was an exciting action sequence that came across as being accomplished in one take, but there’s no way that could have been possible. The next time the movie soared was when Sharlto Copley appeared as Jimmy. Copley is the highpoint of the film. He’s with Henry the longest and his character is allowed the greatest range in the script. Every scene with Copley is interesting and the actor seems to be having the time of his life. If you don’t sit through the credits, you might miss a major name in the film: Tim Roth. He plays Henry’s dad and is in the film for about a minute — seriously, just a minute. He plays a key role, but I didn’t recognize him whatsoever.
The action is what got me to sit in the theater and I felt very mixed by what I got. Like a first person shooter, actions were repetitive and got boring. Things don’t become really exciting until Dmitry appears. After that, it’s a long stretch until Jimmy appears. If you can think of any possible way to kill a villain in a videogame, it’s in this film. I found myself going numb to the action and looking forward to some part, any part, of the story resurfacing. The final action sequence is interesting only for the numbers of foes that Henry fights, but it echoed so much of an iconic scene from The Matrix Reloaded, I caught myself comparing it to that, and this film was the lesser.
The film is filmed in Russia, so that’s where this film is set, and I was looking forward to seeing sights I hadn’t seen before. The movie teases a futuristic city when Henry first begins his run for freedom, but it’s only seen from a distance. The film goes back and forth between middle class cities and the abandoned warehouses and buildings that the SyFy Channel has used to death. I realize that this was a crowdfunded film and such futuristic elements are deal breakers, but after opening with such a fantastic laboratory where Estelle reawakens Henry, the rest of the locations seemed like a letdown. The final setting fits the story well, but really stood out as a film set.
The final line: Some enjoyable action sequences, but more of a story would have made this a better film. Players of videogames might enjoy this, but this will be too repetitious for those who aren’t. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t need to ever watch it again. Overall grade: C+