REVIEW: Hardcore Henry [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 96 minutes | Release Date: April 7th, 2016 (Russia)
Studio: STX Entertainment
Director(s): Ilya Naishuller
Writer(s): Ilya Naishuller

“Don’t touch that. Emma-Jean is mine.”

It’s not that it hasn’t been done before—it’s just never been done like this. Writer/director Ilya Naishuller rigged GoPro cameras to his cameraman/lead stuntman’s face and let the action fly because who needs trickery when you can literally jump into the fight? Hardcore Henry is a pedal-to-the-metal adrenaline rush adventure taken on by a half-man, half-robot mute resurrected from the dead to move hell and high water so his past life’s wife (Haley Bennett‘s Estelle) is kept safe from the financial benefactor of her experimental scientific research: a telekinetic psychopath known as Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). Henry isn’t quite sure what’s happening to him, but he understands survival. So he picks up disposed guns, throws a few grenades, and cracks some skulls with his newly fitted bionic arm.

There’s no time to take a breath once the insanity begins despite it starting out somewhat slow with a flashback to children smashing a toy against a wall and Tim Roth looking into the camera with disparaging words. The opening credits soon do away with any subtly psychological underpinnings once their portrayal of the stabbing, shooting, and maiming of a slew of computer-generated enemies in slomotion close-up commences. We can infer these brutal fatalities are a hint for what’s coming, but they’re really just cool action shots to foreshadow the complete lack of humanity we’re about to experience. Maybe they’re dreams of a killing machine coming online because as soon as Naishuller’s name appears we awake in a bathtub sans left forearm and left calf. It’s exposition time.

Don’t worry, though—this only lasts about five minutes. We learn the relationship between Henry (for all intents and purposes the viewer him/herself) and Estelle, watch as futuristic technology repairs damaged limbs via cartoonish machinery that made me worry about the graphics work to come (rest assured it gets much, much better), and introduce ourselves to Akan as he storms the laboratory, murders its employees, takes Estelle hostage, and makes Henry his newest foe. From here it’s basically a high-octane revenge flick without pause. Mini missions crop up because Henry is a robot and needs to replenish power sources and weaponry, but the whole is ultimately built to find Akan and save the girl. Think Crank except you are Jason Statham. And you have a sidekick for help.

This seems to be a major point of contention for some and I understand why. Our sidekick is the inexplicably out-there Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who continuously dies in pursuit of assisting Henry yet always returns with a different disguise/demeanor. First Jimmy’s a gun-strapped cop, then a hobo, then a coke-addled wild man snorting powder off breasts of a whorehouse’s prostitutes. He’s a huge part of the film because he’s ostensibly our voice for exposition and mission prerogatives since Henry’s vocal programming wasn’t installed. There’s no containing Copley who goes for broke with each of his character’s iterations. So if you don’t like him as an actor or soured on him because you despise Neill Blomkamp‘s movies, there’s a good chance you won’t like Hardcore Henry either.

Luckily for me I enjoy the heck out of Copley and his penchant to embrace the cheese of his situation. Let’s just say there’s a scene where multiple versions of Jimmy engage in a musical number, each singing in his specific cadence and attitude. It’s crucial bit because we need this sort of levity to not become over-burdened by the sheer number of deaths involved. There’s a reason the cast list reads like an extras call-sheet of guards, bouncers, bullies, and cyborgs. Everyone exists to die. Some put up a better fight than others, but the entire point of this film is to mow down whoever is in our way. Bones crunch, screams escape, and blood sprays into our face for Henry to constantly wipe away from view.

At times the action can be so kinetic and motion blurry that you will be disoriented, but I don’t think any one sequence lasts too long to lose your attention. The use of a GoPro also means the picture quality will continuously shift due to heavy grain in low-light and loss of focus during wild movements. This is part of the appeal, though, because it reacts as our own eyes would to a certain extent. And it works brilliantly whenever Akan’s telekinetic powers are throwing Henry around. Running towards him only to be propelled back is an intense visual sensation. Sometimes when the battles are epic in size Akan will toss us into a group of baddies that we then have to dismantle before trying again.

There’s little story beyond kill and capture as Copley prattles on and on about crazy things and the homicidal maniac we’re meant to destroy refuses to let us come within five feet of him. This is Hardcore Henry for better or worse. It’s a gimmick movie whose action is built around said gimmick because the goal is to do something never before seen in cinematic history. You can rattle off the many different films that use first-person perspective back at me, but I’ll still say Naishuller’s vision is unique. The truth to what’s happening may not be special, but the way it unfolds is—especially the bold maneuver to end things as abruptly and intensely as the rest. Love it or hate it, you will not forget it.

[1] “Hardcore Henry” – HALEY BENNETT stars in HARDCORE HENRY
[2] “Hardcore Henry” – Sharlto Copley stars in HARDCORE HENRY
[3] An image from HARDCORE HENRY

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