Hardcore Henry is one of the better video game movies out there. Granted, the film isn’t based on a video game or about video games, but there’s no denying that director Ilya Naishuller was inspired by first-person shooters. Told entirely through the titular character’s eyes, it’s impossible to watch Hardcore Henry without thinking about Call of Duty, Half-Life, or BioShock. The 2005 screen adaption of Doom tinkered with the first-person perspective in its climax, although gamers and moviegoers like to pretend that horrible film never happened. Hardcore Henry is a much more inventive experiment, however, assuming you’re the target demographic.
The audience sees everything from the POV of Henry, who never speaks and rarely looks at his own reflection. Like RoboCop, Henry is turned into a super soldier after suffering a brutal ordeal. Haley Bennett stars as Henry’s wife Estelle, a sexy scientist who helps brings him back. Our hero can barely remember a thing, but there’s hardly any time to explain what’s going on. Danila Kozlovsky suddenly shows up as Akan, a warlord who’s only slightly less over-the-top than Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. When Akan kidnaps Estelle, Henry sets off on a badass mission to save his woman. Along the way, he’s aided by Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, who seemingly has infinite lives at first.
Hardcore Henry has a few fun twists and turns, but story isn’t the focus here. As a matter of fact, many video games have smarter narratives, dialog, and characters than this film. Then again, people don’t always play games for their plots. They’re just looking for an adrenaline rush and a way to blow off some steam, and that’s essentially what Hardcore Henry delivers.
The whole movie isn’t necessarily mindless escapism, however. Even if the shaky cam occasionally gets redundant, the action sequences here are fast-paced, stylized, and humorous. Much of the time, you’ll want to get your hands on a controller and take part in the chaos. Some may debate that the film would have worked better as a video game. Of course there’s numerous story-driven games that arguably would’ve worked better as movies. Hardcore Henry walks a thin line between the two mediums, but it ultimately has just enough crossover appeal to succeed.
With that said, this movie probably isn’t going to appease audiences that don’t like video games or view them as art. Aside from relying heavily on a gimmick, the violence is beyond gratuitous and the fan service is totally shameless. If the idea of a live-action first-person shooter sounds even remotely interesting to you, though, this one’s for you! Hardcore Henry knows what it wants to be and pulls no punches along the way.