First person, second rate
If you thought found footage movies could be dizzying to watch, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Hardcore Henry, as frantic an action movie as the genre gets, was filmed from a first person perspective. Director Ilya Naishuller strapped a GoPro Hero 3 camera to our mute, nameless lead stuntman’s head so that we see all the explosions, car flips and gunfire from an up close and personal perspective. As a gimmick, it mostly works. Some scenes made my stomach flip flop, and in others I barely noticed the novelty. But a 96-minute runtime cannot be sustained by one cool idea alone, and the endless action scenes supported by absolutely no story or character development result in hardcore monotony.
Henry (played by two arms that swing from the corner of the screen) is awoken by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) screwing robotic limbs back into his body. He can’t remember anything, can’t speak, and is being chased by a bunch of gun-wielding thugs. Their boss is Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), whose bad white wig and unexplained telekinetic powers are perhaps his greatest crimes, because I have no idea why he’s hunting Henry or why he’s the bad guy. He just is.
Literally, the movie hits the ground running. Not much screen time is spent providing exposition – and when ally Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) tries to fill Henry in, it’s usually amidst gunfire. Every person who walks on the screen is equipped with some sort of weapon and is out to kill Henry. Still don’t know why. The first person perspective breathes fresh life into the sequences, though – plummeting out of the sky from Henry’s viewpoint invokes dropping from the highest point on a roller coaster, and an extended chase scene through a town and on top of a bridge left me clutching at a stitch in my side.
Unfortunately, the movie breaks a sweat after a while, too. Sure, the set pieces are consistently cool, whether they’re blowing up abandoned towers, or blowing up cars on a highway, or blowing up, well, everything. The pumping music that scrapes through each scene could probably be found at some electronic rave. But, there’s no dynamism. Once you’ve seen the first 20 minutes, you’ve seen the whole movie. Copley’s Jimmy tries to shake things up with plentiful costume changes (he’s somewhat of a comic relief spy who has to constantly change personas). Still, when the object closest to your head explodes every time you try to speak, there’s only so much you can do.
The movie was essentially made for guys who play first person shooter video games like Call of Duty, and is packed with gaming references. Sadly, it makes no compelling argument for why film would be the superior medium. There’s a lot of potential with first person perspective in film that Hardcore Henry didn’t tap into. That makes it a little soft, no?