If you were to ask me to describe Hardcore Henry in one tagline, I would say, “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon: The Movie”. I say this mostly because both are intense, the first-person action shoot ’em ups with a cyborg as the main character. However, I also say it because both titles subscribe to a philosophy exclusive to the medium of visual entertainment: violence is fun! And it’s with those three words that Hardcore Henry approaches it’s entire design from the choreography, to the story and characters. By this, I mean that Henry focuses solely on the first concept and kicks the latter two in the teeth with a crampon adorned hiking boot. Yes, like Crank and John Wick before it, Hardcore Henry‘s setup is merely a vessel through which to deliver the stream of blood and carnage it has prepared for us.
The setup is similar to a Mario game the Terminator thought up. Henry wakes up in a lab as a cyborg, brought back to life by his scientist wife. However, when an evil telepath kidnaps his wife, Henry must shoot, punch, kick and rip his way through an army of henchmen to rescue her. Not the most sophisticated premise, but that’s hardly the point. The point of Hardcore Henry is to take us through a series of set pieces in which Henry obliterates hundreds of henchmen.
The most surprising aspect of Hardcore Henry is the level of engagement. The attempt to make a film entirely from a first-person perspective should’ve been a major disaster. However, through the clever technical decision of using a wide-angle lens to emphasize movement, it suddenly becomes incredibly immersive. The audience feels all of the speed and chaos of the action mainly thanks to this element. However, the first-person position of the camera also helps.
You would think this would be obvious since that is what a first-person POV is designed to do: enhance immersion. However, this is the first time in either a film or video game where I felt the desired effect. The audience is Henry, substituting his lack of emotion and agency in the plot with their own. Maybe Henry is having a miserable time having to cut up his fellow human beings. Or perhaps he’s overjoyed to vent some frustration out on hundreds of people. It all depends on who’s watching the film.
The stunts, while being terrific shots, wouldn’t be very effective if the choreography wasn’t so excellent. All the realistic shaky-cam in the world wouldn’t save poor choreography (ask the last two Taken movies). However, the stunts and fights are superb, displaying a firm grasp of geography and showing off some entertainingly gruesome kills.
There is not much to talk about the acting. There are four main characters. One of the never speaks, and two rarely appear onscreen. However, one must pay attention to Sharlto Copley. He turns in another great character performance as Jimmy, an eccentric scientist who helps Henry through his journey.
Hardcore Henry is a really easy film to recommend. Do you enjoy intense, bloody action, rock and roll and don’t mind a paper-thin excuse to see it? Then you will love Hardcore Henry. If you don’t like any of those things or would like more story to go with the action, then you won’t enjoy Hardcore Henry. It’s a simple movie with simple thrills.