I’m continuing my series of reviews of the 2016 films that I’ve missed and, this time, I’m giving you my thoughts on Hardcore Henry!
IDMb summary: Henry is resurrected from death with no memory, and he must save his wife from a telekinetic warlord with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.
Throughout the years, Hollywood has adapted/used a lot of video game narratives (the latest example being the Warcraft film). However, Hardcore Henry is the first (as far as I know) feature film adaptation of the video game cinematography. Hardcore Henry was also made by two opposing countries – Russia and the US. I guess the foreign financial and creative influences on Hollywood come from more than just China.
Writing and Directing
The film was written and directed by a Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller. While he did manage to create a visually interesting and exciting product, plot-wise it was kinda boring.
The story and the characters
The film had a lot of exposition and a lack of information. The viewers were never told anything useful and I, personally, felt lost in the story. Henry was basically going from point A to B just because – like on a video game type of a mission. The narrative was confusing for Henry and for the viewer alike. The film also had a very stereotypical Russian aura/feeling. It was set in Russia and featured a lot of stereotypically Russian characters in the background – I don’t know why a Russian filmmaker would use these stereotypes to represent his country and Russian cinema to the world, but, then again, some Russian people are weirdly proud of their negative stereotype.
My favorite line in the film was spoken by the villain and it involved the subversion on US favorite pastime. The saying that in Russia, a lot of bats but no baseballs are sold was spot-on and really funny.
The film had a lot of weird characters. To begin with, Henry had a limited amount/no backstory. His metal arm (and leg) kinda reminded me of Marvel’s Winter Soldier. The fact that he needed re-charging was an interesting idea. The villain of the movie – Akan – was super weird. He had unexplained telekinesis powers and wanted an army of the super soldier just because. Another weirdo – Jimmy – felt like a caricature – his clones/multiple personalities seemed really strange and borderline stupid and the explanation didn’t satisfy me either. That musical number felt out of place and didn’t make much sense as well. Lastly, the wife reveal was not that great – I didn’t care enough about the characters to feel surprised or betrayed.
The visuals and the action
Hardcore Henry is really unique in that it was shot entirely from Henry’s POV (except for a single scene with the kids at the beginning that is repeated a few times). This type of cinematography is, of course, very reminiscent of video game gameplay. It also has similarities with the found footage films and their cinematography. While it was really cool to see a film shot entirely from a single perspective, it was also kinda disorientating. It worked at times – at the beginning, when Henry was waking up with no sound and disorientating visuals, the viewers felt like he/she was waking up in the film’s world as well. Nevertheless, an hour into the film, POV cinematography stopped being interesting and felt like a gimmick – nausea inducing gimmick.
The fact that the film only had a single perspective, also meant that its frame was narrow and limited – if Henry was not looking at stuff, the viewers could not see it either. I also felt that the film was unnecessarily graphic, in its usage of both sexual and violent content.
A few positive things on the topic of directing: the opening red slow-mo visuals did look nice. The upbeat music during the fights was also fun. The last fight’s song – Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now – was an appropriate and funky choice. Lastly, this whole film was shot with GoPros. The modern technologies continue to amaze me – the video quality of even the simplest contemporary cameras is unbelievable.
- The cinematographers Sergey Valyaev and Andrei Dementiev, and the director Ilya Naishuller all played Henry. I would like to praise all of them for acting without showing their face – Hollywood actors would never do that (except Tom Hardy – Bane, Mad Max) – they would like their face to be fully on-screen.
- Sharlto Copley as Jimmy had a too over-the-top performance and made this parody of a character even more annoying.
- Danila Kozlovsky as Akan was also too much like a cartoon character. He also kinda looked like Viserys from Game of Thrones S1. I have seen only one other film starring Kozlovsky – The Vampire Academy – that picture was not great but better than the trailers advertised.
- Haley Bennett as Estelle acted like a damsel in distress – a living prop. The only interesting scenes with her was the science stuff when Henry woke up.
In short, Hardcore Henry had style but lacked substance. If that is not a problem for you, you might enjoy the movie, but I wanted something more.
Trailer: Hardcore Henry trailer