Eight Sharlto Copley clones out of 10
“Hardcore Henry” is an experiment as much as it is a film. Plenty of flicks have used the first-person perspective for scenes, but this is the first time anyone has ever tried to make a mainstream film entirely in first person. So, ultimately, the question asked in this review is whether or not the experiment works. My answer is yes, mostly. The film has a few issues, and it doesn’t really elevate its use of the first person as it progresses, but “Hardcore Henry” is genuinely a blast to watch.
The film opens with its protagonist Henry (played by an array of stuntman) receiving a number of robotic limbs and being introduced to his doctor (Haley Bennet) who was apparently his wife prior to him being injured and losing all his memories. This entire scene, and all the others, are seen through Henry’s eyes, setting the film entirely in first-person. Shortly thereafter, the laboratory they’re working at is attacked, leading to Henry’s wife being kidnapped. He meets Jimmy, played by the always likable Sharlto Copley, and sets out to rescue his wife, killing anyone who gets in his way. Copley, through a fun reveal I won’t ruin, actually plays every other character in the film, and you can tell that he’s having a lot of fun with it. His role(s) in “Hardcore Henry” is one of the high points of the film and it’s a great way to take advantage of such a high profile actor working on a relatively small budget. In the end though, the plot takes a back seat to the first-person action that dominates the film.
If I had to describe the experience of watching “Hardcore Henry,” it’s a lot like watching a friend play a video game. Except that the friend is great at the game and the game is amazing. Comparisons were always going to be drawn between “Hardcore Henry” and video games because of their shared perspective, but they really are appropriate. The film is gleefully violent, and walks the edge of being gratuitously so at times. It constantly does something new and interesting with it’s violence though, keeping it from becoming violence for violence’s sake. In fact, that’s part of why the film works. The first-person perspective is ultimately a gimmick, but it never grows stale because it’s constantly being used for something new. Forgive the cliché, but “Hardcore Henry” is a rollercoaster ride of set pieces and action scenes. It has fun with it’s violence and really doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it an incredibly enjoyable action flick.
I’d like to warn you that there have been a few reports of “Hardcore Henry” causing motion sickness. It can generally be alleviated by sitting in the back of the theater, but could still very easily ruin an evening. Another consequence of the first-person perspective, and my major gripe with the film, is that it’s occasionally difficult to follow what’s actually happening onscreen. They did a great job of limiting that, but it’s kind of an unavoidable consequence of first person. The director loses a lot of his control over the camera when he commits to first person. In exchange for that though, you bring your audience into the action more directly than would normally be possible, creating the most unique action film I’ve seen in a while.
Ultimately, “Hardcore Henry” is a gimmick done right, using its perspective to make what would be a standard action flick exceedingly unique and interesting. It doesn’t, however, rely solely on its gimmick, showing competent and enjoyable action through its first-person lens. It’s an entertaining and violent ride, that’s really just fun when it comes down to it.