"Hardcore Henry" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime: 95 minutes
Review by: JJ Mortimer
Like a live-action version of a Call of Duty game (both in perspective and story), Hardcore Henry is definitely a unique experience with some moments of genuine brilliance, humor, and potential, but overall becomes a gimmicky, long version of conceptual short film that can't sustain a coherent story for its feature length.
Through much of my viewing of this movie, I had a smile on my face. I wasn't as lambasted by the first-person perspective (and didn't get vertigo while watching it, thanks to motion sickness medication taken before hand), and found the idea of shooting a film in this way quite entertaining. The way director Ilya Naishuller is able to shoot the film looks to be inspired by the popular video games of today, as well as the "reboot and startup" scene from the original Robocop. The film feels inspired, and the hard work the film makers put in to making this movie feel like a video game is admirable - and that much I enjoyed.
On the other hand, there is very little story for this film to go on. Had it existed as a twenty-minute short film, the joy and wonder of the director's vision would have sustained itself, but after an hour of shooting and kicking and guts and gore, the experience begins to tire. Set somewhere in the near future in what appears to be Eastern Europe, the movie sets up every opportunity for a gun fight and an often-hilarious encounter with multiple characters all played by actor Sharlto Copely (which the film explains, though even had they not put any logic as to why after one character dies another just like him shows up, I still would have found what could have been a great inside joke to be acceptable). After each gunfight, foot chase or car chase, you can almost feel the movie "saving" with a "checkpoint reached" notification popping up on the screen. After a while it seriously stops feeling like a movie - for better or for worse.
The stunt work is hands-down amazing, with a lot of parkour action all filmed with GoPro cameras, and the violence feels particularly real and abrupt. Though in the end, too much is put in to just the action, with very little left to care about in regards to a Force-using villain threatening world domination with an army of re-animated corpses, which of course an amnesia-addled Henry must fight to prevent while also saving his kidnapped wife.
Fun for a moment and stylistically creative, Hardcore Henry is not a narrative game-changer by any means. A great movie to watch at home after a few beers and a few good laughs, just before getting back online to shoot your friend's avatars in their damn faces.