‘Hardcore Henry’ Review: First-Person Fiasco
Even as video games have become inherently more cinematic, almost all movies adapted from video games have resulted in pretty horrible movies. It’s an unfortunate curse for gamers worldwide. Somewhere along the way, these projects lose what made them special and become bland and generic. But what about a movie that is trying very hard to look and feel exactly like a video game? Is that the solution Hollywood, and gamers, have been looking for? If Hardcore Henry, cinema’s answer to the first-person shooter, is the solution, then gamers have a whole new problem to worry about.
This is the part of the review where I’d normally tell you a little bit about the film’s main character, except in Hardcore Henry we know nothing about the film’s main character, other than his name is Henry. We see the film from his perspective and never actually see his face at all. Henry isn’t traditionally played by an actor (various stunt performers and director Ilya Naishuller all played the role on screen) and the character himself is a mystery. He wakes up in an all-white lab attended to by a beautiful blonde nurse (Haley Bennett) with limbs missing. Things have been better for Henry, but our nurse, who also claims to be Henry’s wife, is ready to help. She attaches cybernetic limbs essentially turning Henry into a half-Terminator / half-RoboCop killing machine.
Almost immediately the bad guys arrive, the nurse is kidnapped and Henry is forced to quickly adapt to his new technology to escape, find the woman he loves and stop the weirdo albino telekinetic villain from creating a group of super soldiers and taking over the world…or something. Everything is happening so quickly and the first-person narrative leaves you so disoriented it’t at times hard to tell exactly what is going on.
Lucky for Henry, and unlucky for us, he has Sharlto Copley to act as his guide. Copley plays Jimmy, a character who, in grand video game tradition, repeatedly dies, but continually returns. We learn later that the real Jimmy is a Stephen Hawking level handicapped genius who has created a series of lifelike avatars he can control with his mind. These run the gamut from a London punk to a coked up playboy to a Fred Astaire song and dance man. Yes, if you were interested in watching Sharlto Copley perform “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” during an extended musical interlude in a video game movie, there’s that.
The rest of the film is a series of video game inspired missions and tasks — punch, kick, jump, pick up gun, throw grenade — that I’m surprised there wasn’t a “Press A” graphic on the bottom of the screen. It’s one thing to feel inspired by a video game, it’s another thing to try to literally recreate one. Part of the fun of playing video games is being able to control the action, not just blandly witnessing it go by.
Yet, despite the fact that the film is hyperactive, loud, misogynistic, empty and confusing, it’s still a somewhat remarkable achievement. While you’ll spend the majority of the film wondering what the hell is going on, you’ll also spend time wondering how the hell it’s going on. (The short answer: masks with GoPro cameras attached to them.) Considering the amount of stunt choreography and visual trickery needed to make this film, it’s amazing they could pull it off; I just wished they would’ve used this ingenuity to shoot a :60 car commercial instead, or found a filmmaker that could’ve done something truly revolutionary with it.
Naishuller and his team clearly spent too much time figuring out the logistics of the first-person shoot, and never really bothered to spend much time, oh, writing a script, directing the actors or editing the film in any cohesive matter. I initially thought the relentless first-person construct and the constant whip pans as Henry reacts to everything around him would be nausea inducing, but that was the least of the film’s problems. The only thing that left me feeling sick was the film itself.
Hardcore Henry will likely quickly be forgotten by moviegoers, but with any luck, a far better filmmaker will try to evolve this technology into a far more immersive experience. Like with any video game, it might be worth hitting the reset button and starting from scratch.