Should we go to the theatre with a keyboard? Hardcore Henry attempts to do what no action movie has done yet. The whole film is shot from a first person perspective, using GoPro cameras. Never before was a film so personally immersive in a world of action and violence.
Henry wakes up in a laboratory with his memory wiped. The criminal Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) attacks the building and Henry is forced to escape. From here a rollercoaster unfolds of action and revenge. We see everything from the perspective of Henry himself. It is often said that a movie is like a rollercoaster, but no movie approaches that so literally. Through the constant first person perspective the film feels like you are literally spinning in a little car through the air.
At the same time, game enthusiasts will think back to all those afternoons behind the computer. And if they still have a memory of those key combos in their fingers, they could come with a keyboard to the theatre and play along with the movie. This film is not for those who get sick easily and I wouldn’t recommend sitting on the front row. And honestly, they could have let the camera stutter and flash a bit less.
Hardcore Henry taps inspiration from a broad selection of first person shooters, but isn’t based on a single specific game. This could also save the movie, because just about every movie adaptation from a game has turned out horrible. Look at the Resident Evil films and Doom, and I am worried for Warcraft: The Beginning. But Hardcore Henry doesn’t have to stick to a particular story. Russian director Ilya Naishuller was free to choose from winning ideas and clichés from all games so that it all looks quite familiar, but you don’t have to be worried about it ruining your favorite game.
The special effects seem ok because the perspective is fresh and new. A bigger problems is that the story follows a game-logic that isn’t very believable. At the start, Henry’s wife keeps giving him instructions and calling his name, and in later action scenes there are other instructions that would be challenges in games, such as “stay on the same floor as this handicapped man”, but this doesn’t really work for a movie that is supposed to be set in the real world. Another problem is that the action becomes very repetitive as the film moves along. Henry jumps, falls, runs and shoots people and this keeps on repeating itself, while the film doesn’t build up in tension towards a real climax.
The best parts are in the first half of the film. Here, Henry runs through Moscow and the action involves cars, buses and passersby. It is like a hard rock tour of Moscow. Naishuller seems to have been inspired by whatever he encountered on the streets. Russia gives a nice rough edge to this world of illegal cyberpunk and crime. The rest of the film plays in abandoned buildings and those are just not very interesting locations.
Sharlto Copley may also be the savior of this movie. His character Jimmy dies in almost every scene, but he keeps returning in different shapes. Copley injects a lot of variety and clearly has a blast of a time. Not only Copley is a source of comedy, but there are a lot of strong visual jokes in the movie.
Hardcore Henry is a rollercoaster of hard action and visual comedy. The perspective starts as fresh and new, but turns repetitive and tiring towards the end. Do not expect any kind of interesting story. This is purely for enthusiasts of action and gaming.