Hardcore Henry full movie review - An Outlandish Fast-Paced Science Fiction Saga
Moscow-born writer & director Ilya Naishuller makes his cinematic debut with an above-average but implausible, science fiction saga, "Hardcore Henry," that resembles a video game masquerading as a feature-length film.
Virtually everything is depicted from the protagonist's perspective after he is resurrected and then struggles with a thoroughly repellent villain in a series of cliffhanger showdowns. Basically, "Hardcore Henry" delivers maximum action with minimal plot. An eccentric mad scientist who has already clashed with the villain supervises our amnesiac hero as he fights their shared enemy. At the same time, Henry dedicates himself to rescuing his damsel-in-distress wife after this same dastardly evildoer has abducted her. Sadly, few genuine surprises occur in the aftermath of this abduction that endows this agitated, high-octane actioneer with greater depth. Lacking a shred of subtlety, these characters are straightforward, one-dimensional, stereotypes. The misadventures that they embark on, however, generate anticipation and hysteria. Clocking in at 96 berserk minutes with more than enough slam-bang conflict, this rambunctious Russian & American co-production gives Naishuller scant time to develop his superficial heroes and villains beyond their formulaic origins. This isn't the first time we've seen this kind of trigger-happy nonsense with a sci-fi twist. The premise recalls movies such as "Universal Soldier," "Terminator," and "Crank 2," but "Hardcore Henry" isn't as conventional in its storytelling. Naishuller collaborated with 'Training Day" scenarist Will Stewart, but the revelations that take place are largely standard-issue. Nevertheless, the greatest asset that "Hardcore Henry" deploys is the use of several GoPro Hero3 Black Edition cameras. The adrenalin-fueled action scenes that pile up triple digit body counts are engrossing because of the GoPro. Since everything is lensed from our view, we feel like a rampaging gamer blasting away at everything in sight as hordes of henchmen challenge us. Occasionally, we absorb a blow or two that knocks us sideways. Appropriately enough, Naishuller never identifies the actor from whose point of view the action unfolds. Since Naishuller and ten others who shared camera operator duties played the role, "Hardcore Henry" doesn't have a celebrity name actor in the role. Typically, we are inclined to identify with the lead actor and imagine all the risks that he is facing. Shrewdly, Naishbuller converts the audience into the hero and plunges us into a whirlpool of mayhem so we gain first-hand experience of the ordeal. Tim Roth of "Reservoir Dogs" and "District 9's" Sharlto Copley rank as the biggest stars in "Hardcore Henry," but both appear in strictly supporting roles. Cast as the hero's father, Roth appears in two scenes, and we learn little about him. The rest of the cast is either unknown or up-and-coming.
After an enigmatic opening scene that involves a teenager smashing a small robotic toy against a wall, "Hardcore Henry" begins with a gorgeous, blond, scientist named Estelle (Jennifer Lawrence look-alike Haley Bennett of "The Equalizer"), who bringing a dead soldier back to life. She calls him Henry, and what follows is reminiscent the original "Robocop" movie when he was modified. Not only is Henry missing a left forearm, but he also has no leg from the knee down. Estelle outfits our hero with a new, state-of-the-art forearm, wields a torch-like implement to solder the mechanical appendage onto Henry's elbow so that the limb looks genuine. Next, she screws a new left calf and foot onto his left leg. The last thing Estelle does is hand Henry a brass wedding band and inform him that she is his wife. Initially, Henry is mute, but he can nod as well as shake his head. Eventually, he will recover his power of speech. Estelle escorts him out of the laboratory to meet two male scientists. Before they have a chance to perform an analysis on their rebuilt cybernetic super-soldier, a wailing security alarm notifies them about a breach in their system. Soldiers pour into the room, and Henry hustles Estelle off to an escape pod. As they are plummeting to Earth, Henry looks up and we see that the laboratory was in some kind of aircraft hovering in the atmosphere. Up to this point, aside from Estelle assuring him she is his wife, Henry knows no more about himself than Jason Bourne did about himself in "The Bourne Identity." The trials and tribulations that ensue find Henry tangling against an army with a villain so smarmy that you will relish his demise.
Trust me; you've never seen anything like this audacious, hyperbolic, sci-fi thriller about armies of androids. You're going to either rhapsodize about this extreme, overwrought, parody of action movies or you're going to revile it as mindless melodramatic mayhem. Some might even consider gobbling Dramamine tablets to tolerate this frenzied film. Rookie director Ilya Naishuller keeps the action moving at such breakneck pace that it can induce headaches. Part of the problem with "Hardcore Henry" is its hopelessly incomprehensible plot. As the goofy scientist who pitches in to help our hero, Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) has already run afoul of the chief villain, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky of "Vampire Academy"), when he failed to supply him with an army of androids. Poor Jimmy suffered Akan's wrath and wound up permanently confined to a wheel chair with a broken back. Not one to take adversity lightly, Jim has created avatars of himself, and this oddball army of clones accompany out hero throughout this first-person fracas. The evil white-haired villain reminded me of Javier Barden from the Coen brother's classic "No Country for Old Men." Furthermore, Akan possesses telekinetic powers that enable him to gain the upper hand over our hero. Issues of incomprehensibility aside, "Hardcore Henry" bristles with some of the most dynamic action scenes that you will ever see. The stunt work is nothing short of spectacular, and Naishuller displays flair to spare, especially in a road chase that compares favorably to anything in the "Mad Max" movies. Had Naishuller grafted a smarter plot onto those incredible stunts and gunplay, "Hardcore Henry" would have been a devastating movie.