Hardcore Henry is about a man named Henry (Andrei Dementiev) who wakes up with no memories of who he is or of his past, with severe injuries that a scientist named Estelle (Haley Bennett) is treating with some advanced cybernetic components. It soon becomes apparent that Estelle is Henry's wife (what are the odds?) and that she's working for a megalomaniac with the powers of telekinesis who's hellbent on destruction, named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). It seems that Akan has been footing the bill for Estelle's research program and he considers Henry to be his valuable property, one that he wants to reclaim no matter the cost. So Akan kidnaps Estelle and waits for Henry to come and rescue his lovely wife. Henry does find one ally in the form of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who helps him on his journey back to Akan.
When it comes to plot, it's very simple, most of the dialogue is expository, and the 'rescue my girl' angle is very basic storytelling. These are not this movie's strengths, and nor do they try to be. Hardcore Henry knows what it is, and what it isn't. I remember when a lot of critics were faulting Ong Bak for its straightforward story, but Roger Ebert countered that what Ong Bak wanted to be, Ong Bak was. If you want to see people getting kicked in the head coupled with some amazing acrobatics, then Ong Bak is the movie for you, and in that sense, Ong Bak was a success. Its strength from a storytelling perspective were largely irrelevant. I feel the same way about Hardcore Henry. That the plot is largely irrelevant to the sort of movie it's trying to be, and that is, it's a movie that's primarily for gamers.
Hardcore Henry's 'gimmick' is that it's almost entirely shot in first person view or FPV, an acronym that gamers will be well aware of. I don't consider myself a gamer, but I do play games occasionally, rarely more recently. The last game I played seriously was probably Ninja Gaiden 2, and I never got into the whole online multiplayer aspect of gaming either. So I'm vaguely familiar with the genre, but far from an expert. Even still, I could see all the little nods and winks that gamers would surely pick up on. Hardcore Henry plays out very much like a game too. Henry starts out with very little, not even shoes on his feet and is barely able to throw a punch, but as the movie progresses, so does Henry. It almost feels like he's leveling up as he overcomes each new obstacle or 'stage'. His movements get a little bit more agile, his strength gets a little bit more immense, his aim gets a little bit better, his fighting abilities get a little bit better, and so on.
The first person view of the movie was difficult to adapt to at first, but I got settled into it pretty quickly. It actually felt very immersive. When Henry is sneaking around a building with a gun, I felt a little predatory myself. But there are still scenes where I was wishing I could see the 'full picture' of what was happening around him. And no matter how immersed how I got, there were still scenes that were disorientating to me, which I imagine was the point. I liked how the combat was mostly very quick, chaotic and hectic. I think that's what real combat situations would be like, not like the smooth and stylized action scenes we see so often in movies. It was exciting, it was tense, and it was boldly experimental.
Hardcore Henry is essentially a game. It's narrative is set up like a game. It's characters are fleshed out like they're video game characters. It's many conveniences were set up like it was a game. And the violence was absolutely dialed up to 12, not that I had a problem with that at all. Despite the occasionally discombobulating first person view of the movie, I had tons of fun with Hardcore Henry. The mostly blank avatar of Henry provided a kind of vicarious sense of mass homicidal anarchy that games like Call of Duty and GTA have provided. So I'm sure it wont appeal to everyone, not that it has to, but I enjoyed it a lot. And consider that the budget was only $2 million. I dare you, or anyone else to make a better looking movie with that kind of money. Considering what Ilya Naishuller (director) was working with, it's remarkable how much he was able to do with it.
Written by - The Sentry - 02/08/2016