Hardcore Henry is the easily the best video game based movie not based on an actual video game. Given the history of the genre’s translation to the big screen, that’s hardly an issue. It’s also a ridiculously enjoyable spectacle that puts audiences in the lead role as an action hero.
About the only things missing from the movie is video game controllers in place of 3D glasses and random heads up display status updates.
An amnesiac named Henry awakens with a lone childhood memory about his father (Tim Roth, The Hateful Eight [Blu-ray] and his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) equipping him with a prosthetic arm and leg. Before he can fully assess the situation and get fitted for his voice box, the psychotic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) — think the final video game boss — shows off his telekinetic powers and goes on a murder spree.
Estelle and Henry manage to escape briefly before Akan’s head stooge nabs Estelle forcing Henry to go through extravagant lengths to save her. Sharlto Copley has to do the bulk of the acting heavy lifting as Henry’s lone ally Jimmy.
Each time Henry encounters Jimmy, he has a new appearance and personality. After dramatically switching gears from an alien xenophobe in District 9 to the loose cannon ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock on The A-Team, Copley’s versatility shouldn’t come as a major surprise, but he does a great job infusing some energy and liveliness to prevent the film from getting swallowed by its gimmick.
The challenge for director/writer Ilya Naishuller is making the voyeur experience of an action hero more compelling for the target audience who can just as easily experience the same thrills with greater control from the comfort of home playing on their favorite gaming console. For the most part, he succeeds in making the first-person perspective action spectacle work.
Naishuller definitely builds the film like a constantly escalating video game with scenes playing out more like levels and stages than vital pieces to the story. Naishuller approaches the film very tongue in cheek and there’s a number of fun winking moments to indicate he’s in on the gag like Henry constantly re-upping his ammo supply by picking up the discarded weapons of defeated enemies.
At times Naishuller gets a bit too overindulgent with the graphic violence even if it is fitting with the over the top antics. I had to admire how Naishuller so fully committed to this creative concept and for pulling it off.
Film Editor Steve Mirkovich has an unenviable task in making the experience feel authentic without triggering vertigo and motion sickness in the viewers.
Mirkovich keeps the momentum flowing smoother than you’d expect given the action dynamics and the inherent issues that accompanies the genre even without one constant viewing perspective. While the action sequences become occasionally disorienting, it largely fits the film’s danger could come from every angle tone.
Henry’s premise definitely isn’t for everyone. At the screening I attended, at least two critics walked out. But given the trailers, it’s kind of hard to imagine going into it with some preconceived notion this was going to be the sequel to The Shawshank Redemption. This is a film that delivers exactly what it promises — a crazy, all-out cinematic video game experience.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: STX Entertainment