UK Release Date: 8th April 2016
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Writer: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky, Tim Roth, Cyrus Arnold, Andrei Dementiev
Synopsis: A man with a super-strong cybernetically enhanced body flees from mercenaries out to capture and kill him whilst trying to get his wife from their violent clutches.
When trailers first arrived for Hardcore Henry, it looked like something truly innovative in a world of formulaic blockbusters. Its first person style had been used before – in fact as far back as Lady in the Lake in 1947 – but it seemed to have a unique perspective on adrenaline-fuelled chaos. In a world in which the Call of Duty video game franchise is about as reliable a money earner as there is, Hardcore Henry looked very timely indeed. That was before anyone saw it. Now that it has finally reached the big screen, it can be seen for the hateful heap of cinematic bad taste that it is.
We see the action through the eyes of Henry, who has cybernetic body parts fitted by Estelle (Haley Bennett), who is both a scientist and his wife. Estelle is kidnapped by telekinetic mercenary Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) when his goons attack the research facility. Henry is able to escape the mercenaries, with the help of the loud-mouthed Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who appears to have his own issues with Akan and assists Henry in his quest for both answers and revenge.
Hardcore Henry is a film that has had its brain cells surgically removed and replaced with testosterone. It’s like being forced to spend two hours in a room with the captain of the varsity rugby team, who only wants to talk about the time he spent a whole night playing Grand Theft Auto whilst receiving oral sex from an underwear model. There’s no escape from its unrelenting stream of sexism, homophobia and fetishisation of violence. If the NRA made a movie, it would probably look quite a lot like this.
There are 52 baseball bats sold annually in Russia, and only 25 of them are used for sport. I think you can guess what the others are used for.
From start to finish, Hardcore Henry puts its foot through the floor and refuses to ever lift off the gas. The film is a never-ending journey of running, jumping, shooting and swearing, occasionally punctuated by a brief pause to ogle a gyrating nude woman. This is all conveyed most obviously by Sharlto Copley’s character who appears at random in different costumes and guises to spew obscenities and then die in grotesque fashion, like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow crossed with a Reddit discussion of feminism. Given the impressive characters Copley has conjured in his films with Neill Blomkamp, it’s depressing to see what he becomes here.
The first person style, of which the film is so proud, comes off as the sort of thing that would’ve worked in a short YouTube video, but really jars in a feature length movie. The frenetic pacing means that the camera never sits still and moves in sickness-inducing fashion from one scene to another, dwelling on the detail of the over-cranked ultra violence whenever it can. This all conspires to give Hardcore Henry the feel of a generic shooter video game.
This is presumably intentional, but the filmmakers forget that the main reason anyone buys a video game is because they like to actually play it. Without the interactivity of a game, the tropes are grating rather than an enhancement to the experience. The villain with random, unexplained powers might be entertaining if you get to fight him yourself and the same goes for the contrived “mission objectives” spouted into a mobile phone by a friendly side character. It’s got all of the spirit of a video game without any of the fun.
This is war, baby!
The only impressive thing about Hardcore Henry is just how unpleasant it manages to be, eclipsing even the unadulterated filth of Dirty Grandpa. Director Ilya Naishuller has undoubted flair, but there’s no coherence to the action and the film, when you boil it down, is just a gimmick that doesn’t serve or enhance its story. It’s a hyper-active cacophony of noise and nonsense that’s akin to being force-fed blue Smarties and pushed on to a bouncy castle.
Pop or Poop?
Hardcore Henry is a film with zero imagination that squanders an interesting visual conceit in favour of delivering an emotionally cold, morally repugnant story that bludgeons the audience in the head for 90 minutes. The performances are unpleasant, the direction genuinely headache-inducing and the story generic beyond belief. Is there a cheat code to erase it from my mind?
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.