The titular Henry awakes in a flying laboratory after losing two limbs and most of his face in some unseen grisly accident. His scientist wife, Estelle (Bennett), is putting him back together with new robotic parts when suddenly telekinetic villain Akan (Kozlovsky) bursts in, kidnaps Henry’s beloved and sends his henchman to hunt and kill poor Henry. But they’ve underestimated this half-cyborg super-soldier and his determination to get his wife back, even if he’s running low on power and hasn’t got any memories of his former life.
Just because films based on video games never work, it doesn’t mean that cinema can’t have its very own version of a first-person shoot-‘em-up. Hardcore Henry is so much like playing a video game, that it feels strange not to have a controller in your hand. Copley pops up throughout the film as Jimmy to tell Henry/you what the next mission/level is that needs to be completed. You might find yourself tilting your head, straining to see what Henry sees from a clearer angle, or recoiling from the screen as his enemies leap, punch, kick, and shoot at him. There’s even time for a sniper’s eye view as you stand on a balcony picking off enemies below you.
Being this restricted to one character’s point of view comes with its ups and downs (literally). Unsurprisingly, it’s incredibly immersive, particularly in the middle of Henry’s seemingly endless fight scenes, and when he runs, jumps, and drops from buildings to show off his parkour skills. But there are occasions where the action is too chaotic and a different perspective on events would be more than welcome. But where would the fun be in that? Especially when you get to see all the brutal stabbings, shootings, and decapitations right up close and personal from Henry’s point of view.
Like a video game, the action is relentless. It’s like Jason Statham’s Crank on speed... if that’s possible. If you’ve seen director Ilya Naishuller’s music video for Biting Elbows’ Bad Motherfucker, then you’ll know if you’re going to get a kick out of Hardcore Henry or not. Impressively, Naishuller manages to sustain this balls-out pace and level of technical ingenuity for over an hour and a half with a hero that never speaks, a whole load of repetition in terms of structure, and just that one restrictive viewpoint.
While it barely pauses from its non-stop violence, a slight detour into a brothel will bring back memories of The Prodigy’s first-person music video for Smack My Bitch Up as Hardcore Henry takes the idea of the male gaze to all new extremes. Naishuller has a tendency to overuse music, to the point where the film starts to feel like a series of action-packed music promos, and you wonder instead if Henry is just constantly wearing headphones blasting non-stop techno in your battered earholes. The film also doesn’t score any points for its constant disdain for female characters either, which could easily be remedied by a future sequel: Hardcore Henrietta anyone?
Despite Sharlto Copley giving his all as Henry’s pal Jimmy (who like a video game character has multiple lives), and even delivering a wickedly funny musical number, the stars are the stunt performers. Naishuller throws everything at the screen (literally) as he puts his GoPro-wearing stunt team through the wringer. It might give some a hard-core headache, but Hardcore Henry is an ultra-violent blast of fresh air; a breathless first-person superhero movie with a body count bigger than director Naishuller’s ambition.
HARDCORE HENRY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ILYA NAISHULLER / STARRING: SHARLTO COPLEY, DANILA KOZLOVSKY, HALEY BENNETT, TIM ROTH / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 8TH
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10