Seeing the trailer for Hardcore Henry, I scoffed. “The first feature-length film to be exclusively first person,” the ads praised. Such a thing being heralded for that? Way to implicate expectations based on a single gimmick. Does it have a good story? Characters? An eye for detail or something that can grab the viewer without boring them? I gave myself every excuse not to see the film, and when positive reviews piled up, still I ignored them. I had made up my mind and deemed it unworthy of my attention. It had a certain stigma about it that I didn’t care for.
Today, upon the suggestion of my brother, who watched and enjoyed the film, I saw Hardcore Henry. I gave it a shot. It not only floored my expectations but made me appreciate the amount of effort to make the gimmick feel innovative and believable. Indeed, I have completely eaten my words and have jumped onto the Hardcore Henry fan train. Though, it does have some issues.
This is another one of those “That’s the point!” films, where things are the way they are to better accomplish an intended goal. For this film, it’s the idea of style over substance, through means of making the audience feel as though they’ve plopped right into a late ’90s-early millenium arcade shooter. Time Crisis is among the most famous examples of these, with Hardcore Henry taking everything and more to establish itself as a film that can carry the weight on its lead’s cyborg shoulders. Because of this heavy comparison, the film also embodies the flaws that carry over from video game to cinematic picture.
It is horribly simplistic, and if not for the heavy amount of blood and gore, fairly cheesy. Flashy deaths, flurries of explosions and weaponry and supernatural phenomena. One would assume they were in a modern version of Dynasty Warriors mixed with Mortal Kombat. The amount Henry gets away with can’t be counted on every finger and toe, and that includes erratic behavior and death itself. Enemies are doused like sprinklers in a hurricane. There exists a scene near the end where Henry single-handedly kills roughly fifty cybernetically-enhanced people, all of whom at one point had him surrounded. The chances of his survival at that point is laughable, not to mention against a lead antagonist that can use telekinesis.
Story, or its iteration of it, isn’t anything truly revolutionary, either. Again, basic good vs. evil with not many twists along the way, save the end. A lot is left unexplained and what is explained leaves much to be desired, though rest assured the film ends somewhat abruptly. Its first half has a long stretch of endless goose chases and fight sequences that are all somewhat disorienting. One has to wait for the meat at the end of the bone, though whether one isn’t already satisfied by the texture of the bone getting there is debatable.
What makes Hardcore Henry so fun to watch is through means of witty writing of character and insanely chaotic action scenes. Hobo with a Shotgun tried to incorporate some of this within itself, however it only used the bare minimum and it ended up being more gory than stylistic. The action sequences in Hardcore Henry are more akin to John Wick, with a lot of scenes revolving around fast, precise weapon fire, should Henry be packing. If not, his abilities give his physical attacks a powerful force. Combined with the first-person view, it all combines to create an image of being within the action, instead of watching it.
When mentioning characters, there’s really only one character who stands out, which is Jimmy. Jimmy is a scientist responsible for certain things within spoiler territory, and upon first glance seems to be immortal. His random change of character with every passing scene makes for a hilarious mindfuck of absurd proportions, perhaps hinting at the uselessness of NPCs. He manages to go through some development as the film goes on, though minimal, based on his interaction with Henry and the reality of his situation. More than that, however, is the charm of his constant change of attire and personality. It’s really stupid and I love it.
While this is not technically a “good bad movie,” there’s a silliness to Hardcore Henry that transcends itself onto the final product. At one point in the film, I heard the “Wilhelm scream.” That is not a sound effect that should be in a serious film. With all that was stated earlier, one shouldn’t walk in expecting something that will wrap the viewer in dramatic ecstasy. It’s easy to ignore the flaws present when it’s doing everything it can to give you the full cinematic experience. It’s uproariously entertaining, with just enough emphasis on character and plot to let the audience care about the obnoxiously heavy onslaught of metal and fire.
It’s recommendable based on entertainment value alone, just don’t expect something spectacularly impactful. The shaky camera could cause concern for those who have issue with headaches and such, as certain parts are pretty out of focus. For those who aren’t bothered by it, Hardcore Henry is an exhilarating experience best suited for those who don’t expect the world from it. I may be biased because I really enjoyed arcade games like Time Crisis, but that’s that, and this is this.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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