By Kyle G. King. Though it’s typically not their chief concern, video game enthusiasts still like to bicker over which game has the strongest story. From the post-apocalyptic social commentary of Fallout 3 to the manipulative info-warfare of Metal Gear Solid 2, each game is championed as the gold standard among a swathe of predominantly empty games. (At least, content-wise.) Hardcore Henry is Russian director Ilya Naishuller’s self-aware compromise between a top notch video game and a B-grade action movie. Splitting the difference, he presents not so much a love letter to action movies and video games, but a coy smirk. (Also two middle fingers and a loogie to the face — pretty hardcore, no?)
A memory-washed super soldier is as cinematically trendy as a #manbun at a #BernieSanders rally, but the action-thwacked Hardcore Henry revitalizes the schtick nicely. Shot almost exclusively on a GoPro Hero3 Black, every second of its tight 96 minutes is from the first-person perspective of its voiceless titular hero. Henry runs, falls, fights, and shoots his way through Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) and his team of brawny mercs throughout metropolitan Moscow. He’s a robo-man out to rescue his scientist wife (Haley Bennett) and prove to the world that the Yank Jason Bourne ain’t got no shit on the Euros.
All this high-concept sci-fi action and top-notch stuntwork distinguishes Hardcore Henry from any action-packed film that precedes it (somehow it eradicates ugly memories of Dwayne Johnson’s Doom). The film’s European backdrop sets the perfect balance of dry, chavvy humor and unapologetic scrappiness. It remains fun throughout, but there does comes a moment of narrative sacrifice, where Henry sheds his underdog trappings for a feisty melee of robotic mayhem that isn’t nearly as much fun as it could be. As the film begins to run out of action pieces to throw at its hero, Henry falls into a pit of its B-grade movie trappings — which, when viewed through the scope of video game standards, rates along the lines of ‘so bad that it’s actually pretty damn good’ — but that might prove too big a pill for non-gamers to swallow.
But instead of wasting time poking through its bumpy plot mechanics and spotty character details — like why the hell can Henry rip open his chest, but remain frightened of guns shooting at him — Hardcore Henry invites you to join in on its havoc with open arms. Here, you can actually feel the thrill of spitting out the blood in your mouth only to go on and spill the blood of the other guy’s. As a hundred mile-per-hour joy ride crashing into a concrete wall of Hail Marys, Hardcore Henry is the best video game you’ll never get the chance to play.
Directed by Ilya Naishuller.
Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Ekaterina Kononenko, Ilya Naishuller and Inga Vainshtein Smith.
Written by Ilya Naishuller.
Starring Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett and Tim Roth.
7 out of 10