Hardcore Henry is like the illicit lovechild of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and any number of violent first-person shooter video games.
Hardcore Henry (Russian: Хардкор; also known just as Hardcore in some countries), is a 2015 science fiction action film written, co-produced, and directed by Ilya Naishuller, and produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Naishuller, Inga Vainshtein Smith and Ekaterina Kononenko. The film is unique because its creators shot it almost entirely from a first-person perspective, which results in the movie being sometimes visually disorienting due to this.
It stars Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, and Tim Roth. The film was released theatrically in the United States by STX Entertainment on April 8, 2016, to mixed reviews from critics.
Waking up in a water tank inside a laboratory on an airship, Henry recalls a gang of bullies from his childhood. A scientist, Estelle (Haley Bennett), greets Henry and says she is his wife, and tells him he is recovering from a recent accident that left him amnesiac and mute. The truth is, Henry is an experimental model cyborg.
After replacing a missing arm and leg with hi-tech cybernetic prostheses, a group of mercenaries led by the telekinetic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) raids the ship, claiming all of Estelle’s research is his corporate property. He kills Estelle’s fellow scientists before attempting to murder Henry.
Henry and Estelle flee in an escape pod and land on a highway in Moscow. Estelle is abducted by the mercenaries shortly after, while Henry is incapacitated and forced into a firefight. The film portrays escalating scenes of mindless, relentless, graphically depicted violence as Henry goes on his crusade to rescue his ‘wife,’ complete with accompanying onomatopoeia.
Along the way, Henry is aided in his hyper-violent quest by a character named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who repeatedly appears in the film in different guises, and acts as Henry’s guide on his blood-soaked nightmarish quest.
The film takes a very brief break from its relentless portrayal of violence when Henry arrives at a whorehouse, but this short intermezzo of T and A doesn’t last long and is soon interrupted, as the film returns to its main course of more bloodshed.
I want to say at this point that this film is not the sort of film that appeals to me to watch, graphically portrayed violence, for me, is hardly ever called for in a movie. I consider it usually an overly self-indulgent and a cheap, sensationalistic crutch used by filmmakers when the material they are working with is not enough without it on its own merits. Heads exploding and blood spurting all over the place, in my opinion, does little to add to a movie’s appeal in any way. The implication of violence and its results is enough for me, and the more graphic the violence is in a film, usually means the less I am interested in it.
I nearly turned this film off at several points after realizing the entire film was this stuff, but after a while, the violence became almost mesmerizing in its effects.
Self-indulgent crap or avant-garde art? You’ll have to decide for yourself. My opinion of the film is the former opinion of the two. Admittedly, the scenes of violence, many to choose from, become almost amusing at times. In a very dark manner. Surprisingly, the film does not get as monotonous as I expected it would, although it is very redundant.
Sharlto Copley has a field day in his many different versions of Jimmy, many of whom seem to die along the way only to pop up again later in the film. Copley plays characters that depict the full spectrum of humanity in the movie, from conservative ivy leaguer to a stalwart British soldier, to full-on punk rocker, complete with various accents to fit the characters he plays. It seems like he is having fun and enjoying hamming it up.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Jimmy represents a series of identical androids he can switch between at will. He can only apparently occupy one body at a time. When he leaves one for another, he exits collapses as the other comes to life.
The film’s ending is more of the same and over-the-top violent fight scene between Henry and an army of super soldier cyborgs that he manages to defeat in a ceaseless barrage of violence. That leads to the finale of his final confrontation with Akan, who seems to suddenly lose some of the telekinetic ability, at least as far as controlling Henry.
Not too surprisingly, Henry’s wife turns out to be part of the conspiracy to put him through the gauntlet of death. He has just barely survived. She is Akan’s partner, and the whole thing was a field test to see how well Henry would perform. She comes to an appropriate end as the film comes to a close. Whew.
This film, I suppose, represents an attempt at 21st-century avant-garde filmmaking. If this is the future of entertainment on film, you can have it.