I like to think of violence in cinema as a multiplication factor. In a film like “Mad Max: Fury Road” or “Sin City,” with a dark and grimy backdrop where violence is an everyday occurrence, the disturbing imagery of a guy’s head being blown apart is vital to getting the film’s point across and makes the film better. But, if the film has no reason to be violent and only wants to show disgusting imagery because it can, then it hurts the film.
Case in point, “Hardcore Henry.”
I’ll admit, I was impressed by the trailer for this film – an action-adventure film done entirely from a first-person perspective, shot like we were the main character in a video game like “Grand Theft Auto” or the “Fallout” franchise. No movie has done that for its entire runtime, so I was at least intrigued by “Hardcore Henry”‘s filmming technique.
But what I got was something just as unpleasant as “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” A film that has no reason to exist and would have been better off staying as a video game instead of a movie.
Set in the future, our lead “character” Henry wakes up missing an arm and leg, and is unable to talk. His wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), takes him out of his chamber and replaces his missing limbs with cybernetic enhancements. But before she is able to give him a new voice, they are attacked by a psychic-wielder, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) and forced to flee. Estelle is kidnapped by Akan and Henry must now fight his way up to Akan to get her back.
If that plot synopsis sounds a bit too much like that of a video game summary, it’s only because “Hardcore Henry” is so much like a video game. Because we’ve had such a great track-record of adapting video games in movies, right? Remember “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” or Mark Whalberg in “Max Payne” and the groan-inducing “Resident Evil” movie franchise?
It is my personal belief that video games and movies should be separated as much as possible, and never let one of them try to be like the other. It is boring when a video game tries to be like a movie, with far too many cinematic cut scenes that ruins the immersion, and it is ineffective when a movie attempts to be a video game. “Hardcore Henry” falls into the second category.
If “Hardcore Henry” was a video game, most of the violent and bloody action sequences might have worked. If I was the one pulling the trigger and performing the strange kung-fu moves, then there would have been something redeemable. But what separates video games from cinema is one simple thing – immersion. In a video game, you are in complete control of your character and can make them do whatever you want. You basically become this gun-totting crazy guy.
This is not the case in a movie. No matter how hard a film may try, and believe me “Hardcore Henry” does this harder than most others, the audience cannot become or control the main character. We don’t the same satisfaction in a movie killing as we would in a video game, because we’re not the ones performing the action in a film.
But the entire basis on which “Hardcore Henry” attempts to live on is making you feel like you are Henry. And it fails every time. The reason I did not list an actor when I mentioned Henry in the plot summary is because he does not have an actor. We never see or hear Henry, and have no way of connecting with him. All we see of him is the violent acts he commits.
This film would have been so much better if Henry could have talked. It is implied that Henry has other cybernetic enhancements that gives him extensive knowledge on combat that can be turned on and off. What if Henry could talk and we could understand his confusion about being able to perform these superhuman abilities? How are we supposed to care about Henry and his relationship with Estelle if he never acknowledges it? How are we supposed to understand his struggle to stop Akan if we can’t see his emotions?
This is where the idea of shooting an entire film in the first-person perspective comes back to bite itself in the ass. Our lead character is not a character at all. Just a vessel to get to the next video game-like action sequence.
There was one scene that stuck with me, long after I watched “Hardcore Henry” that I think perfectly summarized the problem with this film. Henry stumbles across a crime being committed against an innocent woman, and Henry catches up with the criminals. Henry then proceeds to violently and disturbingly rip this men apart, with every bit of the bloodshed in full display for us to see.
These men were not working for Akan, nor did Henry know these gentlemen. He just felt like turning one of them into a shish kabob and making sure the other never has kids again.
“Hardcore Henry” has no reason to as violent as it is. The cruelty on display does not serve any purpose other than to be gore porn and makes even less sense when we cannot sympathize or understand our protagonist. The world he lives in is not inherently violent, as we find out near the beginning when Henry observes the scientists trying to help him.
Overall, “Hardcore Henry” is a confused little film. It wants to be like a video game, but lacks the immersive factor. It tries to send a hero on an epic journey, but forgets to give him any sort of character whatsoever. And the film has copious amounts of brutality, but forgets to include a reason about why that should exist. The action sequences are forgettable, the characters are non-existent and there are way too many scenes that feel like video game objects that it ruins the cinematic experience. I was waiting for Henry to get an achievement for getting twenty headshots, but sadly that never came to be. Skip “Hardcore Henry” because there is nothing good going for this one.
Final Grade: D-