There’s an ancient and wise saying that the best video game movies are the ones that aren’t actually based on video games. The best example of this is Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, starring Emily Blunt’s biceps and some guy named Tom Schmooze or something. Add another to the list: Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry, a first person shooter come to life.
Is it stupid?: Yes.
Is it gimmicky?: Yes.
Is it fun?:
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the drill: Hardcore Henry is shot in the first person, with the camera looking through the eyes of Henry, a part-cyborg warrior who must save his wife (Haley Bennett) from a Russian supervillain and his band of bio-engineered supersoldiers. He’s helped along by a group of characters (really one character… ah, fuck it, nothing in the plot matters) all played by Sharlto Copley. There’s hobo Sharlto Copley and sweater vest Sharlto Copley and coke fiend Sharlto Copley and old-fashioned British officer Sharlto Copley. Someones Sharlto Copley saying “fuck it” and acting completely insane works, and sometimes it doesn’t (Elysium), but here it definitely does. There’s a musical number. It’s great.
Video games are the obvious point of reference, but as someone who neither knows nor cares about them—barring Uniracers on the SNES, my one and only love—my brain went straight to ’80s action movies. Hardcore Henry is very WHEN MEN WERE MEN (who shoot a lot of people), WHEN WOMEN WERE WOMEN (with their tits out) and nobody ever, ever takes themselves too seriously.
Fuck, sure, let’s make the bad guy telekinetic and give him red and yellow eyes. (He also wears a turtleneck, which is how you know he’s pure evil.) Do we need a tank in this movie?… Nah, not really, except for FUCK YES WE DO. “Hey, uh, I was reading the script, and I noticed you forgot to put the motorcycle-riding, pleather-catsuit wearing femme fatale in after the strip club scene?” “Oh shit, man, thanks for pointing that out! I guess I got too into writing the scene where Henry’s attacked by a flamethrower-wielding baddie dressed like a disco ball.” “No worries! Hey, here’s an idea: You can have Henry get exploded off the top of a truck and land on top of a motorcycle.”
(While we’re on the subject of Wayne’s World, there is some excellent usage of Queen in Hardcore Henry. Which doesn’t mean anything by itself because, as we’ve established, Queen is so awesome that it can make anything look good.)
Hardcore Henry is loud and stupid and filled with every action movie trope imaginable, including the sexist ones. Henry is literally (and intentionally) devoid of all personality—we never see him, he has no memories, and he can’t speak. He is a completely blank slate. The only original thing about Hardcore Henry is its POV action movie schtick, which seems like it would get tiring real quick, AND YET.
Hardcore Henry is really fucking fun. It’s not for everyone. It’s not a movie you want to think about too much, and the camerawork is at times a bit headache-inducing; I don’t tend to mind shakycam or found footage movies, but if that’s something that bugs you, you already know to stay away from this one. This is a movie best seen in theatres with a group of rowdy and slightly tipsy (or more than slightly tipsy) friends. For my part, I’ve never had such a good time at a movie with god damn dubstep in it. Fittingly, it was produced by Timur Bekmambetov, who also produced last year’s Unfriended, another movie that looked like a dumb gimmick but was actually pretty good. Say what you want about Bekmambetov’s directorial work (*cough*Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter*cough*), but the guy has a good eye for talent.