A title like Hardcore Henry could go either way; it could either be a fun, self-aware action romp or something trying too hard to be a fun, self-aware action romp. And then there is the fact that the entire film is shot in the first person. When the eponymous character awakes to see his “we can rebuild him” robotic transformation, the audience sees it through his eyes. It sounds like a gimmick that could work for a short film or a single episode of a TV series, but not enough to carry a 90 minute movie. It sounds akin to the novel written in the second person How Not to Write A Novel described; it sounds interesting at first, but quickly loses its novelty.
Actually, a more fitting analogy for Hardcore Henry is that it’s pretty much a big-screen video game. The first-person character runs down corridors, escapes explosions and mows down several nameless mooks. Sadly, at times, it feels too much and too little like a video game at the same time; you’re either bemoaning the lack of plot and character or wishing you had a controller and for the cutscenes to end. First-person works for video games because it complements the fact that the main character is being controlled by the player, but no such control exists for Hardcore Henry.
That is not to say that the film isn’t entertaining. In fact, a few of the scenes are made better through the first-person perspective, including a rather surreal song-and-dance number. It really does feel like the people behind this movie had fun making it, and there are plenty of fast-paced action and chase sequences and some well-done comic relief to momentarily stop the film and its gimmick from getting too creaky.
Hardcore Henry will work best for those who really just in the mood for some fast-paced action and nothing more, as the story and characterisation in the film are lacking. The closest thing to a leading lady is Estelle (Haley Bennett), who fixes up Henry in the beginning. She feels too generic, even when a twist about her arises, and so does the villain, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). The most entertaining character is Henry’s aid Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who is actually several different characters in a sense. Henry is a cyborg, and Akan’s plan is to build an army of them, yet it never feels like these cyborgs are adequately explored. It’s unlikely one would watch a film called Hardcore Henry for a deep plot, but still.
Hardcore Henry is what its title promised along with a gimmick that works most of the time, but little more. It’s diverting and entertaining enough, but hardly something you’ll remember.