There’s nothing I enjoy more than a director experimenting with new techniques to better convey their artistic vision. Shot entirely from a first-person perspective, Hardcore Henry makes its unique selling point clear from the start. Unfortunately, it never really amounts to much more than a gimmick.
The plot reluctantly follows the eponymous cyborg protagonist as he leaps his way from action sequence to action sequence, skilfully dodging any attempts at character development. Mute, and with no memory of his past life, Henry is awoken by a woman who claims to be his wife, but before she can offer much in the way of exposition, the telekinetic antagonist, Akan, storms into the scene and begins the next ninety minutes of non-stop action. The love interest abducted, the baddie after the world, if it’s an original plot you’re after, you came to the wrong place.
The unrelenting action is exceptionally choreographed at times, especially considering the difficulties associated with first-person perspective camera work. There are genuinely enjoyable moments to be had as you see through the eyes of a cyborg killing machine, but you can only watch somebody else’s hand punching a thug so many times before the novelty wears off, and I found myself praying for a scene that could last two minutes without a burly bloke having his throat punched in. If variety is the spice of life, Hardcore Henry tasted very bland indeed.
The quality of the film can be summed up in a single word: inconsistent. The visuals range from the breath-taking (the best bits are in the trailer) to the godawful (surprisingly absent from said trailer). At one point they can afford a plethora of machine guns, at the next, they can’t even afford a prop for a grenade launcher and resort to a low quality CGI mess. The acting is equally inconsistent. Whilst recognisable names such as Sharlto Copley and Tim Roth did a decent job, there are moments in this film (and I can’t stress this enough) that are offensively bad. At times the ‘acting’ was so weak I struggled to differentiate between those characters who appeared intentionally cyborg, and those played by cyborg actors. The film felt like a waste, the good moments eclipsed by the bad.
Any gravity generated by the clichéd storyline is quickly obliterated as the audience are force fed gratuitous violence to the point where the film is reduced to weak comedy. This is unsurprising, as the movie’s concept came from the tongue-in-cheek music videos made for the band Biting Elbows, which were also filmed from a first-person perspective.
More disgusting than the violence, however, is the film’s treatment of women, who are reduced to nothing more than prostitutes, femme fatales, and jokes. For no real reason, Henry has to visit a brothel, where the audience are confronted with awkwardly prolonged shots of naked women who can’t resist the adorably “cute” cyborg protagonist. The film amounts to nothing more than an orgy of violence and pornography. To see naked women from a first-person perspective is no doubt an innovative experience for the writers of Hardcore Henry.
The film not only reinforces sexism, but also homophobia, through a series of hateful ‘jokes’ that left the audience in an uncomfortable silence. In a way, I was glad the protagonist was mute. Who knows what revolting lines these writers would have forced him to say otherwise?
I appreciate that Hardcore Henry is not a film meant to be taken seriously. It wasn’t made to win any awards, raise any profound questions, or even be a great movie. But then why was it made? Hardcore Henry is a monotony of violence, sexism, and homophobia clinging to the flimsy skeleton of a bad joke. Do yourself a favour, and give this one a miss.
Image courtesy of STX Entertainment