POV-shots in movies are hardly anything new (see, for example, “Halloween”, “Strange Days”, “Doom” or “Maniac”), but “Hardcore Henry” is arguably the first action movie that is presented entirely in that particular style – thanks to the wonders of modern technology (more precise: A modified GoPro) – thus imitating first person-shooters, but with “real world”-graphics. Unfortunately, that’s also the only thing that the movie has going for it, because otherwise, it’s completely unremarkable; and even the “first person view”-style is not without problems. Overall, I had the feeling that I wasn’t watching an actual movie, but rather a 90-minutes “proof of concept”-video.
Let’s start with said style, shall we? On the one hand, I have to applaud the filmmaker for trying to shoot an entire movie that way. On the other hand, I feel that what he offers up here is more of a failed attempt from which other filmmakers can learn – in order to identify, and avoid, the pitfalls that go with it – than an experimental triumph in itself. For example, everyone who hates shaky-cam (like me) will have a hard time, and should definitely avoid the first couple of rows in the theatre. That – as well as the fish-eye lens, which is noticeable pretty much throughout (even though it’s worse in some scenes than it is in others) – is the main problem of using a GoPro instead of a regular handheld camera (or, even better, a steadicam). What was even more jarring for me, however, was that while “Hardcore Henry” is shot from a first person point of view, it’s not a “single take”-movie (or at least appearing to be). There are cuts all the time, and while I understand the reasoning behind that from a production point of view, every single of those cuts took me out of the movie and ruined my impression that I’m either watching some sort of ego-shooter-“Let’s play”, or might even experience the action myself. Because there are no such cuts in either real life nor video games. Thus, for me, the whole concept was flawed from the start. Now, mind you, I wouldn’t have minded if they would have hidden the cuts, or – like going from one level to the next – had Henry close his eyes occasionally, to open them again at a new location (starting a new level, so to speak). But, just as an example, you see Henry walking towards something or someone, and instead of following him all the way, we suddenly cut to when he already got there. I for one found that incredibly irritating.
There also is an inherent problem in the POV-approach: Since we follow the action from Henry’s point of view, we know that nothing is going to happen to him, and that he will make it at least to the end of the movie – since otherwise, it would be over right away. Granted, one could argue that there’s hardly any danger for the main hero to die throughout an action film in general, but nevertheless, because of the first person-view, I found it particularly problematic in this case. Even worse, though, is the fact that apart from the POV-gimmick, “Hardcore Henry” is completely unremarkable. Seriously, if it wouldn’t be the self-proclaimed first movie shot entirely from this perspective (even though that’s not true), we wouldn’t have this discussion, because no one would talk about and hardly anyone would have seen it. Because if you take that gimmick away, all that you’re left with is an action flick that doesn’t even deserve to be called mediocre. The story is practically non-existent. There are no discernible character motivations, neither for the hero, not for the bad guy(s). You’re simply supposed to root for him because the movie gives you the impression that you are him, but at least for me, that simply wasn’t enough. Also, the bad guy was absolutely terrible. I have no idea what Naishuller thought it would be a good idea to give him telekinetic powers, but for me, it went against the “realism” that the movie strived for by putting us in the heroe’s shoes. Also, Danila Kozlovsky gives one of the worst performances that I have seen in a very long time. I also was and still am not the biggest fan of Sharlto Copley – an opinion I continue to stand behind after watching this movie. And while the movie, very occasionally, managed to slightly amuse me, most of the humor fell completely flat for me. The musical number was especially painful. Finally, nothing that happens in this movie had even the slightest emotional resonance with me.
Now, as I said before, “Hardcore Henry” has its moments. There are a couple of thrilling scenes, like when we’re thrown out of an airplane, tumbling to the ground, or we’re holding on to a rope that’s dangling from a soaring helicopter. The best part of the movie was the shootout that takes place in an abandoned building. Not only did it feature the best us of a Wilhelm scream in a very long time, but it was also one of the very few scenes where they used as little cuts as possible, thus the action moved very fluently. And as a huge fan of Queen, I have to admit that I smiled when “Don’t Stop Me Now” started playing. Overall, though, I’m afraid to say that despite a couple of thrilling sequences, “Hardcore Henry” is probably the worst video game movie not actually based on a video game.