‘Hardcore Henry’ is rotten to the core

By Corey Stein

Official "Hardcore Henry" Facebook Page
(Official “Hardcore Henry” Facebook Page)

“Hardcore Henry,” directed by Ilya Naishuller, is a first-person shooter game made into a full-length motion picture.

As someone who grew up playing first-person shooter video games, “Hardcore Henry” is the movie I’ve spent years waiting for. It replicates everything I’ve loved about playing “Call of Duty” and puts it into a frantic 96-minute over-the-top ride.

But the movie fails because after about 20 minutes, its adrenaline rush loses steam and its repetitive action and nauseating cinematography become exhausting.

The plot can be summed up in one sentence: Henry’s wife Estelle (Haley Bennett), is kidnapped by a telekinetic villain named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), and Henry has to get her back.

By “getting her back,” I mean Henry must kill every person that comes into his peripherals. Henry proves his parkour skills, leaping from ledges to rooftops with ease, and the film’s plot is as razor thin as that of a first-person shooter game – it only exists to move Henry from point A to B.

Most of the film’s characters are underdeveloped. The audience never learns much about Akan or how he obtained his confusing powers. Henry, the main character whose eyes we see the movie through, is mute for the entire film and we never see his face. He is just a lifeless killer. The lone standout character is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who acts as Henry’s sidekick, a likeable sarcastic character who tells Henry where to go next in his attempt to save Estelle.

“Hardcore Henry” is a revolutionary piece of filmmaking, filmed all from Henry’s point of view with custom GoPro cameras. There is no denying this technical achievement, but what should be the movie’s main draw ended up its worst part. I became nauseated and found myself looking away from the screen more times than I wanted.

Henry moves at a blistering pace, making the action blurry and sometimes hard to make out, detracting from what could have been great hand-to-hand combat and shootout scenes. There are a few on-foot chase scenes and Henry’s constant bobbing left and right that would make even folks with the sturdiest of stomachs feel nauseous.

The movie’s first-person style gets in the way of creating fresh ways to develop the action. Yes, the stunt work was often “how did they do that” impressive, but there are only so many times you can punch or shoot someone in the face before it gets tiresome. The ways in which Henry disposed of his enemies were varied though, offering truly gruesome kills. It was over the top and gory.

The most likeable part of “Hardcore Henry” is how it borrows video game elements. For those unfamiliar with first-person shooters, many moments and lines the movie shares with the likes of “Call of Duty” will go right over your head.

“Hardcore Henry” has fetch quests, a sniper sequence, a boss battle and even a tutorial mission. The movie never blatantly says when these occur but a gamer will appreciate them. That said, while the idea of being like a video game is certainly cool, there were times during the movie at which I wanted to pick up a controller and play rather than watch.

“Hardcore Henry” has an immensely satisfying soundtrack paired with Henry’s onslaught. “My Girl” by The Temptations plays during a shootout in a surprisingly fun and unexpected twist. Composer Dasha Charusha’s original score is energetic and synchronized well with the rest of the movie, seamlessly blended with both slower bits and ramped-up action.

I am really disappointed I didn’t leave “Hardcore Henry” wanting more. I wanted the first-person style to break new ground in filmmaking. Unfortunately, it is going to take more time before this method gets polished enough to not induce motion sickness in the viewer. My best advice is to sit back at home, save your money and play “Call of Duty” with your friends. I guarantee you will have a much better experience without the headache.

Corey Stein can be reached at [email protected]