I’ll admit it, I enjoy a first person shooter from time to time. As much as I like to be a gaming snob, I’ve lost many an hour to various Call of Duty games while I think Far Cry 3 is one of the best games from the last generation. It’s easy to see why so many enjoy them as well. We all like to act like an action hero, like we are Arnold Schwarznegger or Sylvester Stallone, and these games allow us to be one. But can we transfer that sort of fantasy into a film? Hardcore Henry aims to find out.
Henry (Andrei Dementiev, First Feature Film) is resurrected from the dead and has been turned into a super soldier by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett, The Equalizer). However because of his new abilities, he is being tracked by the villainous Akan (Danila Kozlovsky, Vampire Academy) who wants to make a whole army of super soldiers like Henry to take over more of the world.
So if you’ve seen the trailer or even the shots from the film which my editor will have put in around this interview, you may have gathered that this film is entirely shot from the first person. It’s a very unique gimmick and to my knowledge, this has only been done once before for a feature film. So the question is, does it work? Surprisingly, the answer is mostly yes. For the action scenes, it has a good go at making you feel like you’ve just done these amazing athletic feats, and so gives you a thrill not many films can do. When Henry is flung into the air, kills a bad guy before perfectly landing a motorcycle to kill someone else and continue his chase, it actually makes you cheer. I don’t think I’ve cheered at an action scene since Mad Max: Fury Road, and that’s the highest compliment I can give a film.
However while the unique use of the camera gives this film it’s best moments, it also has some weaknesses in a weird similarity to the observing protagonist of High-Rise. While scenes such as the motorcycle chase and a particular moment going down an escalator do give you a thrill, the blander action scenes make you want to pick up a controller and start playing. That’s particularly irritating for me as I watch all my movies on a PS4, so I accidentally paused this film a lot. Also for production reasons, the film is forced to do jump cuts during the action scenes. This instantly takes you out of these scenes because you may be in a big thrilling scene and then it feels as if you’ve jumped ten seconds in time. It’s disconcerting and ruins the flow of the action in Hardcore Henry.
But you can’t rely on a gimmick if you want to be a successful feature film, so we do need a story and other characters. And the film is much weaker on this front. Early on in the film, Henry escapes from the lab he is created in with his wife but when they are on the ground, she is taken away from him. So despite the incredibly novel way to film this movie, the plot is the oldest in the book. If we’re going to continue this Hardcore Henry is like a video game thing, the action is from Call of Duty while the plot is straight out of Super Mario Bros. I’ll admit, there is a pretty good twist at the end which almost justifies this, but we’ve been stuck with the tired plot for too long by then.
And boy, is this villain bad. His motivation is suitably bland, take over the world and steal the girl, and you can see that Danila Kozlovsky is trying to go over the top to make up for that. Yet he makes me realise that what Tim Curry and other British actors did in their performances is actually really tough, because in the end it’s just embarrassing to watch. The best explanation I can come up with is that this is a pale imitation of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor from Batman V Superman. Yes, it is that bad.
I’m being a bit cruel on the performances here and that’s not really fair because Sharlto Copley (District 9) is a saving grace. He plays many characters in this film because he plays many clones of one guy who you meet later in the film. And whether he is playing the hippy or the British general type, he is a joy because Copley has so much personality. With the main character being silent, to enforce that it’s actually you, he is a much needed companion for most of the film and he will drag you through the slower bits.
Even though I can’t say this is a great or even a good film, Hardcore Henry is really worth a watch because I think more and more will follow this film’s lead, and it could end up being revolutionary in a way. The action can be a thrill even when on your normal TV, so imagine what this stuff is going to be like when it’s on one of those VR headsets. I can see tonnes of films, where short form or feature length, being done from the first person to make us really think we’re in the movie. Despite having a poor plot, stupid villain and a couple of mediocre action scenes, Hardcore Henry is the start of a trend that’s only going to get bigger over the next few years.