Although there is no single actor portraying Henry, nor do we ever see his face – save for a brief moment through a filthy shard – he’s the titular protagonist of Hardcore Henry (originally titled just Hardcore). In his place, a series of daring cameraman and stuntman wielding GoPro cameras capture the mayhem of our silent hero as they take the audience on a unique and nonstop joyride full of car chases, gunfights, and high flying stunts that would be instantly familiar to any first-person shooter game fan. Think Call of Duty, minus the controller.
But before the mayhem ensues we see Henry bullied as a young boy in a scene punctuated by a brief appearance from Tim Roth (as Henry’s father). Next we’re introduced to an amnesiac (and now adult) Henry awakening helplessly on a laboratory bed (on an airship) with a few missing limbs being replaced by mechanical stand-ins by scientist Estelle (Haley Bennett), who also claims to be Henry’s wife and really serves as video-game expository to inform on the mechanics of the movie.
Got all that? Good, because at this point it’s clear Henry is now more machine than human, which is what allows him to partake in the unbelievable and infinitely serves our better enjoyment.
The video game tropes continue as we are informed that Henry temporarily can’t speak (which runs the entirety of the movie); instead of the Man with No Name he’s the Man with No Voice. In fact, many of the film’s details are “gamer-centric” from its entirely first-person perspective, to it’s self-serving action scenes, tongue-in-cheek quips during said action scenes, and Henry’s destinations revealed to him through a cellphone (which are really mission briefings).
As quickly as we are introduced to Henry we meet our supervillain: the blonde-haired and telekinetic (which is never explained) Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who erupts into the airship laboratory. Henry and Estelle escape in a pod but once safely on the ground their plan is rendered kaput when Akan’s forces scoop up Estelle. Henry’s only ally in this mess is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who, in this film, plays many “Jimmies” as various Jimmy clones that run amok the city in an attempt to help out Henry and keep him alive just long enough to get to Akan. We’ve got punk Jimmy, homeless Jimmy, etc, etc.
Hardcore Henry is the quintessential film for the gamer and action movie crowd, one featuring moments of recognizable game characteristics, tropes, and scenarios. The film’s structure is really just a series of scenarios to justify its action where the spectacle serves the audience, which isn’t something I normally go for. But in this case, such things are totally fine, and really does feel like a refreshing take on the action genre. There’s very little in the way of coherent plot, and the more senseless and improbable action sequences only really exist to enthrall and entertain the viewer.
But what the film lacks in story it makes up in sheer adrenaline and testosterone fueled non-stop action. From beginning to end, this is one explosive joyride of blood, mayhem, and hardcore thrills that never lets up.
Hardcore Henry is the brainchild of music video director Ilya Naishuller in his feature film debut. It takes maniacal ballsiness to create a full-length movie presented entirely in first-person perspective and Naishuller has proven he can make a seemingly one-note film into something uniquely fun and enjoyable with impressive stunts and off-the-wall action sequences. What could have been a cinematic disaster, with a mundane use of static camera focal lengths, manages to be an off-the-wall fun and explosive film that should appeal not just to – forgive the pun – hardcore game fans but anyone with a hunger for pure action.
Hardcore Henry is brainless action at it’s finest, never relenting, and always pleasing with its brazen explosiveness and stunts that are sure to keep any action fan engaged.