Movies have been based on video games: “Super Mario Brothers,” “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” “The Angry Birds Movie.” And, there have been movies influenced by video games, especially with action scenes, like “London Has Fallen.”
Now, there’s “Hardcore Henry,” a movie that is so much like a first-person shooter video game that a joystick should come with every ticket.
The entire movie was shot using a GoPro camera fastened in front of the face of the actor. That means every scene is from the hero’s point of view, whether it be a gun battle in the streets, a fight with a tank in the woods, a bloody conflict in a brothel or one of the other countless excessive scenes of death and destruction.
“Hardcore Henry” is to action movies as “The Blair Witch Project” is to the horror genre. Both depend entirely on the gimmicky way the production has been put together and banks on no one noticing that there’s less plot than in a one-panel comic strip.
All that’s revealed about Henry is that he’s been modified to the point he’s more machine than man. He awakens with no memory and an inability to speak. The lack of vocals is the smartest thing director/writer Ilya Naishuller does. Since we never fully see Henry’s face or hear his voice, it is much easier to put ourselves in the center of the action.
Henry escapes his captors with the help of his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), and begins a nonstop killing spree across the Russian landscape. Give Naishuller credit for putting in almost every imaginable way to kill someone, including the use of an eyeball.
And, these thugs don’t go gently into that good night. It’s a gorefest as Henry slices and dices with great conviction. And, because of the unique way the movie is shot, it all unfolds right before the moviegoer’s eyes.
Adding to the movie’s video-game design is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), a mysterious figure who keeps popping up (and then dying) in Henry’s life. He’s like a cut scene in a video game where he pauses the action just long enough to impart whatever knowledge is needed by Henry to get to the next level.
Sadly, Jimmy never delivers enough information to give the film even a semblance of a plot. There’s no information about Henry’s past other than his role in a plot by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) to rule the world. It would have helped if there at least had been some explanation as to why a madman who has the power of levitation would need an army of super soldiers. That would have meant taking a few seconds from the bloodbath that is “Hardcore Henry.”
As a gimmick, “Hardcore Henry” gets points for offering a different way to look at the action movie genre. It’s different enough and paced at such a breakneck speed (or several broken necks) that the lack of plot and character development won’t be a concern to those who appreciate the movie’s video-game design.
There are problems. Watching a film shot with a GoPro is not for the weak of stomach because of the camera motion. That’s another similarity to “The Blair Witch Project.”
The biggest fear is that like “The Blair Witch Project,” this first-person perspective will be copied by other filmmakers. “Hardcore Henry” thrives on its original design and copycats will just be pale imitations. The only thing they could do better is write better dialogue, more plot, better characters and at least one scene that makes logical sense.