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Film in Review: Hardcore Henry

Before heading out to the theater to see the latest video game… I mean action movie… experience, I decided to invite my brother to join me. “Remember when we were kids, and we saw A Choose Your Adventure movie that included buttons on the armrest?” “Mr. Payback!?” he said, excitedly. “Sort of. It’s like that, but without the ability to influence the story. No buttons.”

“Oh.”

Hardcore Henry is very much like watching a video game being played by an expert gamer friend. You get to sit and absorb the play with most of your senses, appreciating the technical prowess on the surface. However, there is only so much to take in second-handedly. Without being at the controls, the game is merely a facade of a film. Henry’s gimmick of being from a first person perspective – that of Henry – has a confused meaning attached. We, the audience, are sharing an eye with the camera/Henry, essentially experiencing the story as the character does. Well, essentially, as we cannot control the actions of the character.

This is the Being John Malkovich of moviegoer-on video-game movie watching. Without control, we’re not playing or participating. With only a single protagonist perspective, we have the illusion of being immersed. It’s like a double negative slight of hand. A trick of a trick intended on tricking the easily tricked. It doesn’t quite work on second thought, but was it an entertaining trick when it happened? As Quentin Tarantino has said, film is an illusion, merely a series of photographs giving the impression of movement. Maybe the impression of immersement is just a progressive movement in the history of cinema. Maybe.

The trailers for Hardcore Henry suggested ultra violence on a level beyond the Rambo sequels. There is much blood, much gore, many gunshots and explosions aplenty. But given the cartoonish context and serious lack of stakes or consequences – inherent when you are the hero – none of it really equated to being “ultra.” Gruesome, I guess, but not ultra. The ADD method of disorienting, head spinning camera movement and editing (the movie is not in real time) offers no rest or time to take in the acts just seen. It’s in, of the ‘wait til the next moment’ filmmaking, with a mindset it’s banking on the audience to share. And, you know what, we just might.

 

Henry reminds me of the silly Riki-Oh, but without the universal enjoyment. Where that movie had a certain X factor which made it truly special (probably hidden within its goofy world building details), this movie, despite some impressive sequences of action-packed choreography and imagination, could easily be duplicated – and, if it does well, will be duplicated. Cut to around 90 minutes and paced fast enough, it’s as if this is merely a proof of concept movie than an actual movie – something meant to prove that its gimmick could be done. Something meant to justify itself. How insecure.

Please don’t mistake my words to mean that Hardcore Henry is somehow terrible. It’s not, really. Dull stretches and frustrations aside, there is quite a bit of creativity in the conception and practice of its fight bits, where our limbs fly out at stunt men haphazardly, and weapons just sprout from nowhere. It’s blood-quenching parkour, it is Go Pro porn, it is thankfully not in 3D.

“What did you think?” I said to my brother. “It was… a lot.”

 

2.5 / 5 *s

 

For more from the author, follow him on Twitter @BillReviews.

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