Hardcore Henry packs a punch

Likening a movie to a videogame experience is often considered an insult in the cinematic world. However, Hardcore Henry embraces this preconception and delivers a 90-minute, unadulterated, completely first person romp of R-Rated violence, while (for better or worse) abandoning its characters and story in the process.

The premise is a classic “save the princess” plot blended with ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi cheese. Our silent protagonist Henry, portrayed by multiple stunt men, is awakened in a laboratory without memory of his past. His spouse, Estelle (Haley Bennet), is about to finish tuning his enhanced, cybernetic body until a psychopathic war monger named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) infiltrates the facility. Ultimately, Akan kidnaps Estelle and, with the help of a mysterious ally who can seemingly reanimate himself, it’s up to Henry to rescue her.

Interestingly enough, director Ilya Naishuller first implemented the film’s continuous perspective shot in a music video for his band, Biting Elbows. So it’s no surprise that Hardcore Henry seems less like a movie and more of a composition of 20-minute cutscenes with five-minute expository breaks, allowing its audience just enough time to breathe before each brawl. The level design of each fight sequence varies well in location and objective, from tracking missions in the streets of Moscow to holding a multi-story fortification.

Depending on the environment, the perspective camera angles either limit or supplement the action in tight corridors or chase scenes, the cinematography can be confusing, even nauseating. The direction can also be enthralling and enjoyable in open areas with more paced movement. Although soldiers are consistently being slaughtered, there unfortunately isn’t much variety in Henry’s method of killing (other than bullets and explosions) — that is until the ultimate showdown.

While the movie doesn’t expand its characters beyond simplistic motivations, it’s self-aware enough to not dedicate any time exploring its characters and instead focuses on the exuberant bloodshed that the audience paid to see. Nonetheless, the film does pull off some clever twists and explanations, connecting a seemingly random parade of events into a full circle narrative. The story is not a masterpiece, but it’s fleshed out enough to provide some intriguing continuity and build up an incredibly gratifying ending.
All in all, Hardcore Henry is nothing less than what you’d expect from its advertising, and if you give it a chance, maybe even a little more. Though sometimes restricted by its own innovative style, its impressive ambition and creativity alone is enough to warrant praise. Coupled with an invigorating soundtrack, memorable moments and plenty of references to similar video games and movies alike, Hardcore Henry is recommended to anyone with the endurance or stomach to watch it.