Hardcore Henry

Hardcore Henry Movie ReviewSTX Entertainment
Rated R for for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use.
Running time: 95 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.

Bring Dramamine if you’re planning on seeing “Hardcore Henry.” And do NOT meet up with friends for drinks beforehand.

This extra-violent extravaganza of first-person action filmmaking is not for the faint of heart, and it surely is not for anyone under age 17. (Your tweens and teens may think it looks fun, or dope, or whatever the kids say these days with their rock ‘n’ roll music. Say no. This is a very hard R.) At the same time, it’s probably also not for grown-ass people like yours truly. It is pummeling. It is punishing. It is nauseating and headache-inducing. I was seriously discombobulated walking back to my car afterward and was in a pissed-off mood the rest of the night. Maybe that’s the point.

But if you’re in the sweet spot of its target viewing audience — video game enthusiasts in their 20s and 30s, and more than likely male — then “Hardcore Henry” is for you. Now get off my lawn.

Writer-director Ilya Naishuller, a 29-year-old Russian who’s also the lead singer of the punk band Biting Elbows, has come up with an inventive premise and an intriguing mystery that grab your attention — at least for the first 20 minutes or so. But the film’s relentless, repetitive violence quickly grows numbing and even boring — which, theoretically, is not what you’re looking to achieve in a high-octane action flick.

“Hardcore Henry” is predicated on a gimmick — albeit, a clever gimmick — but there’s not much more to the movie than that. Naishuller attached GoPro cameras to a bunch of stuntmen to create the sensation that we are experiencing everything our protagonist, Henry, experiences: all the running, jumping, climbing, chasing, crashing, fighting, shooting and killing. We never see his face and we don’t even hear his voice because he doesn’t have one. We are learning everything right alongside him. We are essentially watching someone play a first-person shooter video game on a giant movie screen.

The film begins with Henry waking up in a lab with no memory of who he is or how he got there. A beautiful, blonde scientist, Estelle (Haley Bennett), is attaching high-tech prosthetic limbs to his battered, tatted body — and she says she’s his wife. But he quickly realizes he’s in danger and must go on the run throughout Moscow from the various bad guys who are after him, including a diabolical albino with telekinetic powers (Danila Kozlovsky) and his army of cyborg henchmen. Luckily for Henry, though, he’s a killing machine — part man, part science experiment — which makes the vast majority of “Hardcore Henry” a non-stop bloodbath.

The curiosity of who he is, how he got in this condition and what the crazy bad guy wants is compelling for a little while. But — spoiler! — the movie never answers these questions in a way that’s even vaguely satisfying. The story is totally subordinate to the spectacle. It is the McGuffin. The dizzying visuals are all that matter — but they’re not enough to make us care.

Henry also visits a Russian brothel where dozens of women are dressed (or, rather, undressed) identically in nothing but black panties and platinum blonde wigs. It screams of misogyny, but it’s probably also yet another intentional element in recreating the video game sensation. Various characters do massive amounts of drugs, which I guess is supposed to be edgy. Oh yes, and there’s a ton of language, but that seems almost quaint compared to the other hardcore activities going on here.

One bright spot is Sharlto Copley’s performance as an odd dude named Jimmy, who shows up along the way in various disguises and voices to give Henry clues as to where he needs to go and what he needs to do. Copley gets to play it broadly, mix it up and have a little fun as an “Easy Rider”-style hippie, a punker, a coke fiend in a leopard-print banana hammock and more. He is a welcome source of lightness and humor.

I admire the ambition, the vision and the level of planning it took to pull off such massive, intricately choreographed set pieces, but I can’t exactly say I enjoyed “Hardcore Henry.” By the end, when Henry is fighting off an endless onslaught of white-suited cyborgs on a Moscow rooftop, it’s just impossible to look directly at the screen anymore, and only partly because of the motion sickness that results in doing so.

12 Comments on “Hardcore Henry

  1.  by  Vadim

    Actually, you do happen to witness a reflection of his face within the movie. So, yeah, there’s that incorrect portion with regards to it–sure, it’s something nearly at the end, but whatever it may be worth that argument against the movie cannot hold any weight as it does in fact exist.

  2.  by  Samuel

    I actually rather enjoyed this film and surprisingly never got motion sick once. Taking it as it was made to be (A non stop brutal action film shot in the first person that had no intention of telling a good story from the offset.) Once again I honestly do not believe that many people will get motion sick watching this movie unless you have a VERY weak stomach.

  3.  by  Agirlcommentingforjustice

    You complain a lot. I bet you enjoy romantic comedy or fifty shades of grey 10 times more.

    This is you “omg ..omg I just can’t like deal with the gore or movements bc I’m not really like a forward thinker. I enjoy the love stories and being able to see the main guy soo I can like drool all over him.” Lameness all round. I bet you don’t like Quentin either. I would call you a bunch of names but I just feel sorry for your lame mind

    •  by  jan

      what a shame that being a female film critic means having to endure sexist comments like this one. “i bet you don’t like Quentin either” – haha. what are you, 15 years old? “I would call you a bunch of names but I just feel sorry for your lame mind” – yeah, you definitely took the high road on this one.

  4.  by  brett

    It seems strange that you enjoyed the scene of Jimmys impromptu musical more than the action. I think if that is the type of scene you prefer to the violencce you should not be watching Hardcore Henry. You don’t seem to be its target audience.

  5.  by  Selene

    I was really intrigued to see this movie after I listened to a podcast with Sharlto Copley, in which he explained that all the stunts were real… Albeit with cranes and other somewhat safe measures….however there were many physical dangers that the actors put themselves in to achieve these incredible stunts. I was able to watch about half of it until the nausea kicked in and I had to leave the theatre, and I’ve never had that experience watching a movie before. I don’t have the strongest stomach but definitely not the weakest either. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to watch the rest of the film because I think this was a really unique and exciting type of movie, and I just hope the next time they make one of these the camera a little more steady!

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Selene! I feel your pain.

  6.  by  Terry halfstone

    Why is going to a brothel and seeing naked women misogynistic? That’s life and there are plenty of women who want to be there. So much use of the that term makes it pretty much meaningless at this point.

  7.  by  Rez

    I just watched it. Wow, intense! It was such a love letter to gamers. I laughed quite a bit, and enjoyed the absurdity, the grotesque, and Tim Roth slumming it gave it a cool edge.
    Christy, you’re a good writer, but maybe this wasn’t the genre for you. I wanted to hear a review from someone who lives within the world of max volume, of total intensity, where the blood etc and camera work etc aern’t such an issue, but the creativity within the genre is the focus. Fingerpainting with blood….
    Besides, we all knew what was coming when we sat through the opening credits.
    And the Portal easter egg totaly sold me.

  8.  by  Matthew

    Thank you for the honest-but-kind review. Not interested in what the target demographic has to say, because I’m often so wrong. 😉 Saved me a $6 rental free and 98 minutes. Next!