Title: Hardcore Henry
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Milhouse: "This is great...and all I've done is enter my name: 'Thrillhouse!'"
On screen: WELCOME THRILLHO
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three copies of Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Feature-length version of Smack My Bitch Up, only more guns and boobs. Also, it's a dude.
Tagline: "First they made him dangerous, then they made him mad."
Better Tagline: "Brought to you by Dramamine, the original motion sickness medicine."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's Henry's first day back after a horrific something-or-other that took his arm and leg. Luckily, this is the Near Future, where cyborg prosthetics and nuclear-powered implants are plentiful. He's barely had time to get acquainted with alleged wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) when the villainous Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) shows up, intent on using Henry to facilitate building an army of super soldiers. Akan kidnaps Estelle, and the only person who can help Henry rescue his wife and uncover the truth about his past is the mysterious Jimmy (Sharlto Copley).
"Critical" Analysis: It feels like we've been sliding toward something like Hardcore Henry for a while now. There have been parkour GoPro videos on YouTube since forever (in Internet terms), and writer/director Ilya Naishuller got the idea for the movie from similarly themed videos he shot for his band. We've even seen the concept on the big screen before, in 2005's Doom, which adopted the first-person perspective for the final action sequence. It was executed clumsily, but you knew that wouldn't be the last time you'd see it.
Since then, first-person shooter (FPS) games have exploded in popularity, and so a similar full-movie treatment was only a matter of time. And at first glance, Hardcore Henry admittedly looks like something that would appeal only to the Call of Duty crowd. I can't totally disabuse you of that impression, but there are some aspects that allow me to recommend it to folks who don't know a choob from a n00b.
Part of it is the novelty. The perspective takes a little getting used to, but is undeniably immersive and maximizes the opportunity for surprise. Things simply happen too fast to give you much warning. Decapitations and disembowelments come out of nowhere and are almost instantly forgotten as we move on to the next act of cruelty. The movie rarely pauses for breath, so it's hard not to get swept up in the experience.
At the same time, the freshness threatens to wear off quickly. One of the ways Naishuller combats this, in addition to the near-nonstop carnage, is by changing up the scenery. Henry falls from suborbital platforms, climbs buildings, does battle with a tank and engages in high-speed highway gunfights, all in a desperate attempt to keep our Adderall-soaked eyeballs fixed on the screen for a few additional nanoseconds.
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Another way he keeps things lively is through the generous use of Sharlto Copley. You probably know him as "Oh yeah, *that* guy" from District 9, Europa Report and Elysium. Here he plays Jimmy, the enigmatic, oft-doomed Luigi to Henry's Mario who assists our hero on his bloody quest to find himself. Copley injects the proceedings with much-needed humor, and his various appearances help break up what threatens to be mindless testosterone overload.
Because for all that, Hardcore Henry is chiefly a vehicle for the male id, from the wholesale adoption of video game tropes on down to the femme fatale and gratuitous strip club/brothel sequence. This movie doesn't just whiff on the Bechdel test; it bubbles in a picture of a penis on the Scantron and high-fives itself on the way out.
It's also nauseating, and not in the sense of watching someone groping in entrails or seeing an old man in leather shorts, but because it jumps around so much it's like watching The Blair Witch Project on a boat rounding Cape Horn in a gale. Okay, maybe not *that* much. It bears mentioning, however, so that those sensitive to such things might be advised to steer clear.
Hardcore Henry is, if nothing else, an interesting experiment. Time will tell if it marks the beginning of a new age of virtual cinema or is merely a queasy flash in the pan.