You have never seen another movie quite like Hardcore Henry, but you have definitely seen a video game or two that bares a resemblance. Plotted and designed like a futuristic Call Of Duty adventure, the latest feature from writer/director Ilya Naishuller is fast, loud and ultra-violent to the absolute extreme. It’s the kind of movie you watch alone or with your most profane friends, and even then you’re sure to turn someone off.
What little plot exists in Hardcore Henry is fun while it lasts. Henry, a human-machine hybrid, has just awoken from an accident or operation he cannot remember. The first thing he sees is Estelle (Haley Bennett), his supposed former lover and current doctor who is in the process of rebuilding Henry in a very literal sense. She screws on a new leg, installs a new arm and is just about to give Henry back his voice when a supervillain named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) raids her facility with a gang of faceless goons. The ensuing struggle leaves many dead, including the doctors who helped put Henry back together, but he and Estelle escape. Shortly thereafter however, Estelle is kidnapped by Akan’s henchmen and Henry is forced to fight through the city and countryside in hopes of rescuing his true love.
Not long after his journey begins, Henry meets Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), a strange genius who is looking to help Henry defeat Akan. The only problem is, Henry unknowingly broadcasts his every view to Akan through the technology implanted in his mind. Every turn Henry makes, Akan and his men are there. Like The Raid or Dredd, Hardcore Henry tells of a world where there is a seemingly infinite army of bad guys waiting at every turn. Henry fights through every anonymous goon all with style and flair to spare by breaking bones, stabbing stomachs (or heads), and, of course, tossing grenades. If that sounds endlessly violent to you that’s because it is, and the gratuitous nature of the action only continues to build right up until the final frame.
It should go without saying at this point, but those with weak stomachs and/or a distaste for extreme bloodshed would be wise to avoid this film. Hardcore Henry is the kind of movie where a scene featuring the protagonist graphically ripping open the chest of an android to pull out his still-beating heart in search of life-saving technology happens early in the first act. The bar for obscene and preposterous chaos starts higher than most films ever aspire to, and then continues to rise as the story develops. Henry and Jimmy cannot go more than five minutes without having to shoot, stab, punch or otherwise kill another soldier of Akan, which means a constant barrage of fast-paced sequences that play with a dizzying sense of reality thanks to the film’s reliance on point of view (POV) storytelling. Some will find such persistent craziness tiring, but others will cheer for more, and where you fall on that spectrum will largely depend on your feelings toward the first-person approach to the narrative.
Performance wise, Hardcore Henry is perhaps most notable for giving Sharlto Copley a chance to express himself in ways no moviegoer has ever experienced. His take on Jimmy is one that will be discussed for years to come. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone used the idea of Jimmy’s character and his personality to make a second, completely standalone feature about his life and experiences. If anyone knows of a Kickstarter or Indiegogo type project trying to do just this, please let me know.
Some will rush to discard Hardcore Henry as being a one-trick pony, but those people probably haven’t sat through the entire film. While the full-bore POV storytelling is the most obvious new idea in the film it is certainly not the only one. Henry himself is something we’ve never really seen before, as is the character of Jimmy and the secret he keeps about his ability to be everywhere at once. Even Akan, the film’s near-albino villain, is the product of original thinking. His powers bring to mind something one might find in an X-Men movie, but the use of those abilities come with a cost that hasn’t really been explored in a feature film before. There are other, equally unique ideas at play as well, but to mention them all in this review would be to spoil one of the best parts of the film.
Though its paper-thin plot leaves a little to be desired in the final product, Hardcore Henry provides thorough thrills with its unique approach to cinematic storytelling and penchant for over-the-top violence. There are at least a dozen new ideas in this movie that have never been brought to the big screen before, and most of those elements will leave you with your jaw on the floor. Those that don’t will still make you think, even long after the credits have rolled, and those components are what makes Hardcore Henry something more than an experiment. This is a moviegoing experience unlike anything you have known, and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Sit back, strap in and whatever you do, don’t take your eyes off the screen.