As an avid gamer, my reticence about Hardcore Henry revolved around one question: Would I rather play it than watch it? Unlike other video game-influenced movies, Ilya Naishuller’s feature debut rarely comes off as an extended cutscene keeping me from the interactive goodness to come. It may have less emotional resonance than Commando and even less of an original story to tell (think a POV Crank), but the energy and successful implementation of its first-person shooter narrative more than set it apart from its paint-by-numbers action peers.
The tissue-thin story (What additional writing could Will Stewart have provided?) involves a cyborg brought back to life by his wife (Haley Bennett—anyone besides me remember Music and Lyrics fondly?) only to be chased by a white-haired, telekinetic villain named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who would not have been out of place in the weird world of Metal Gear. Meanwhile, a guy named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, District 9) keeps showing up to help Henry and the audience with minor exposition, despite some rather devastating injuries.
With its only real familiar faces being Copley—laying sole claim to the title of action’s reigning weirdo—and Tim Roth as Henry’s dad, briefly, the real star is the singular way in which the movie is shot and choreographed. The Rock-starring Doom momentarily tried this trick in 2005 with much less (read: no) success. Most likely, Hardcore Henry will wind up as the standout genre oddity whose virtues fans will extol for years to come rather than a sea change in the way action movies will be made. Like an ultraviolent Chevy Show, Hardcore Henry puts the audience in the moment while managing not to incite vicious bouts of motion sickness. I call that a win.
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