Hardcore Henry is less of a film and more like a Let’s Play – that is, a first person playthrough of a hack-and-slash first person shooter game, except without commentary. The main character is ostensibly “you,” the viewer, as the whole movie is from his point of view – literally, as at points one half of the screen shows a different image to the other when Henry’s vision is distorted.
Michael Bay has admitted that he makes his movies “for fourteen year old boys”- if so, I think this movie was made for eighteen year old boys who are now old enough to see a little blood – or rather, a lot – and have grown up on hyper-violent video game logic. In fact, the recent indie game Superhot (reviewed this month inQuench!) was based off of the film’s first person music video predecessor Biting Elbows – making Hardcore Henry essentially Superhot: The Movie. Although you might not want to watch it twice; this is a very fun flick that seems like the horrid lovechild of Quentin Tarantino and sadistic Japanese game designer Suda51: specifically, the scene in Pulp Fiction where a character finds a baseball bat, then a chainsaw, then a katana, and his eyes light up after every new discovery, mixed with the batty humour and wildly varied methods of killing in No More Heroes.
The aforementioned video game logic is present throughout. The plot is difficult to follow, and the viewer is discouraged from keeping track of it anyway by means of the chaos that builds up throughout. Towards the end, the hero climbs a tower, on top of which he finds himself up against a gauntlet of goons, all based on him, before facing off with the Big Bad who has moves that render the hero’s normal attacks useless. The hero has to wait for him to slip up with one of his own moves before going in with a stylish finishing attack. Sound familiar? You bet it sounds like a boss fight. This video game logic even began to make me expect that the film’s plot twist was that Henry had been killed multiple times in his murderous mission before finally making this successful ‘run’.
The rest of the film is like this, but it doesn’t really matter. If you’re up for a laugh,Hardcore Henry is great fun. It could be argued that it is repetitive, without any of the normal framing techniques used in cinematography, little dialogue and plenty of fighting. However the fighting is kept fresh by increasingly convoluted methods of murder and what little dialogue it has is always interesting or funny, delivered by a humorous selection of characters. The way the film presents women may be seen as a little sexist, but it is set in Russia and we all know from the Pussy Riot debacle that women don’t exactly get treated that well in real-world Russia anyway. My biggest gripe was probably the film’s lacklustre soundtrack. I was hoping for some Pulp Fiction style beats during the frantic action scenes (which is about 90% of the film) and whilst the film does deliver some grim thumping the best tune utilised is Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, which would be great if it wasn’t already as overused in films, games and advertisements as the Stones’ Paint it Black.
Hardcore Henry is a fun film to switch your brain off to, but definitely not for those sensitive to blood, motion sickness, or poor choices in film-making.