For all the film lovers out there, go ahead and put this film at the top of your ‘to watch’ list. Seriously – it’s that good. And ya know what? I’m just gonna go ahead and say it – don’t listen to what Rotten Tomatoes has to say about this one.
To give it perhaps the most mundane description ever, Hardcore Henry is an action film shot entirely in first person. Our humanoid protagonist, Henry, wakes up in a lab with no memories. Sounds pretty cliché, right? But here’s where it gets good – as the doctors are trying to install his speech module, the lab comes under attack. His speech module is never installed, so Henry doesn’t say a word the entire movie. He’s just a badass, bionic killing machine.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as this is meant to be a review, not a plot summary. But I really want to defend this film from the horrible reviews it’s received from Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and The Guardian, who particularly slagged it off as being ‘for folks who are too lazy to play their own video games’ and ‘vulgar, boring and embarrassing’.
Personally, I think Naishuller’s first-person film style is refreshing. And yes, it is highly reminiscent of a video game. But what’s wrong with that? My husband and I love video games, which was one of the reasons we enjoyed this film so much. In an age where every single film is a remake, a sequel, a spin-off, or a ‘boring ass Marvel movie’, seeing a film that is at least semi-original and different is a rare treat. And for us, a film/video game hybrid is pretty exciting. (And no, Guardian reviewer Jordan Hoffman, that doesn’t mean we have the brains of a 14-year-old boy, as you so delicately put it.)
Had this been filmed in traditional third-person, I agree I might not have cared much for it. There are tons of action films out there and so many of them are the same. One of the things that makes Hardcore Henry different from the rest is that first-person POV. Many of the critics complain that they got bored of it within the first 15 minutes, but any true action fan or gamer will be engrossed in such a style. How often do we get movies filmed in first person?
But enough about POV – let’s switch gears and talk about the setting. Hardcore Henry is a Russian film, and, though this is never explicitly stated at any point in the film, it’s set in Russia. Not only do we not have a clue how we got here, but we’re in a foreign place where we can’t understand the language or the culture. When Henry falls off a building, we have Russian ladies rushing up to help him, but we can’t understand what they’re saying. This isn’t NYC or LA, where people seem to be used to armoured men falling out of the sky and simply duck their heads and carry on walking.
I also want to go ahead and refute the claim that this film is plotless and doesn’t give us characters to care about. I cared about Henry and I never even heard him speak. I watched through my fingers and prayed that he got back up when Akan throw him around the room like a ragdoll. I cringed when I watched him open up his own chest cavity to recharge his batteries. I even cried a little – but I won’t tell you why (because spoilers).
And you wanna know why I cared so much? Because I was Henry. Because I had as much of a clue what was going on as Henry did. Because I got to scale a building, fall off an overpass and survive. I got to smash in skulls, throw grenades down stairs, have a shootout in a nightclub, do all these things I’d never dream of doing in real life. (Mostly because I’m not a psychotic murderer.) And all because it was filmed in first person.
I think it’s important to remember that media is meant to take us out of real life. Good media will give us vivid experiences that we would never otherwise have. This is why people love video games so much, because they’re in charge. Of course, a film could never give the viewer the kind of control over a story that a video game can, but Hardcore Henry still puts us in the drivers’ seat.
So if you’re a real person who likes watching action movies, give Hardcore Henry a chance. Nothing is ever going to satisfy the critics unless Spielberg is the director. Besides, I don’t think these people realise just how uppity they sound when they write reviews sometimes. I mean, that horrible Guardian review was written by the same guy who thinks Civil War ‘chomps up the competition’, so I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. (Which isn’t very far, especially without the help of the flashy CGI Marvel is famous for.)