Director: Ilya Naishuller Starring: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett Running Time: 96 minutes
The problem with reviewing Hardcore Henry is not in evaluating whether or not it is a good movie, but in evaluating whether it can be considered a movie at all. Certainly the images movie, so it has that going for it. Shot entirely on head-mounted GoPro cameras so that the entire film is seen from the point of view of a mindless killing machine, Hardcore Henry is the logical end point of critic’s saying that mindless action movies are ‘like a videogame’, openly coveting the comparison.
As a film, it fails due to absence of story, characters, themes or interesting set pieces. As a video game, it fails because it is not actually a video game. As a list of things that adolescent minded director Ilya Naishuller thinks are cool however, it works like gangbusters.
The plot/daydream Naishuller had while scribbling bad anime on his geography textbook, sees cyborg soldier Henry wake up in airship above Moscow being tended to by his scientist wife Estelle. In short order he’s off on a mission to rescue her from the clutches of Akan, a telepathic albino who wants an armHy of murderous Humpty Dumptys like Henry for vague but nefarious reasons. Henry is guided to various locations on this quest by Jimmy, a quirky scientist hopping between various bodies and personalities (Sharlto Copley mugging his way through Chief Wiggum’s headshots). The way that Jimmy hands out objectives and advice to Henry is the most overt way that Hardcore Henry resembles a video game, but while watching somebody else play a video game can be entertaining, but when it’s stretched out to 90 minutes it doesn’t take long to get old.
The concept of Hardcore Henry came from Naishuller using the same gimmick in music videos for his band (of course) and if limited to a couple of minutes would be entertaining enough. Certain scenes are jammed just tightly enough with big, stupid ideas that they’re entertaining in isolation for their sheer audacity, and Naishuller’s enthusiasm can never be faulted. But for the most part the action is just badly (by design!) shot depictions of played-out action tropes, thinly stitched together. If ‘being able to see what is happening’ is something you enjoy in an action movie, you are out of luck, as Henry’s bobble-heads whips around wildly as he is tossed around by psychics, tanks, sword wielding dominatrices and anything else considered cool by the director’s energy drink sensibilities. Most of what can be seen is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, the dullness of most of the action being Hardcore Henry‘s most damning indictment. If more of it were harmless fun, it would be easy to excuse the paper-thin characters and absent-minded plotting as they only exist to facilitate the action. But when the action isn’t good either, it results in an ouroboros of inept filmmaking, There are only so many first person stabbings that can be endured before boredom sets in and Hardcore Henry has neither the competence of the conceptually similar horror Maniac nor the brevity of those couple of minutes in Doom. A recommendation of Hardcore Henry is an accusation of childishness. It is not a movie.