Movie Review: “Hardcore Henry” – All Madness No Method

Written by Matt Butler April 14, 2016

hardcore-henry-movie-review-9Hardcore Henry is the epitome of senseless violence. I know plenty of people who are into that sort of thing, but there’s probably just as many of us who are turned off by it. Me? I love it. Sure, I’m all for the slow-moving methodical think pieces, but sometimes I need to enjoy the cathartic bliss of a person digging their hand into another person’s chest and pulling out their still-throbbing heart (Hey, it floats my boat…). But I still believe there should be a method to the madness, and it’s that belief that ultimately took me out of this movie, because Hardcore Henry seems to pride itself on the absence of a method. While the premise is an entertaining idea, I don’t think it’s quite enough to fill a 90-minute movie (which is already an economic runtime).

Hardcore Henry shoves the audience right inside the eye sockets of its titular hero, a mute cyborg with physical prowess the stuff (and clear inspiration) of video games. Shot entirely in first-person perspective, we follow Henry on his beat-em-up slaughter quest to save the princess -I mean his wife (Haley Bennett)- from an evil Russian baddy (Danila Kozlovsky) bent on taking over the world.

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When Hardcore Henry first popped up on IMDB, I was immediately charmed by the premise. I can’t recall a film that’s touted complete first-person perspective so forwardly. Even Birdman didn’t boast its seamlessly edited faux-single-take as its selling point, we just got that as an added bonus. So for Hardcore Henry to put itself out there for what it truly is, and with a premise so nostalgically trite (never thought I’d pair those two words together…) I think I got exactly what I expected, and that’s the problem, because Hardcore Henry doesn’t seem like a movie to play things safe. Weirdly enough, as loud, bloody, and brutal as Hardcore Henry gets, there’s nothing that really wowed me.

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“This is war, baby!”

I think it may have to do with the pacing. The best way to sum up this movie’s pace is to imagine a rollercoaster if it were all just one 90-minute drop. Whatever build up we get happens briefly in the beginning and from then on we’re thrown into an incessant madhouse of confusion and hysteria. Of course, it’s not uncommon for a film’s structure to be likened to a rollercoaster, but Hardcore Henry essentially reverses that preconception.

A Typical Film Plot Structure:


story-structure

Hardcore Henry‘s Plot Structure:

story-structure (1)

This amped-up rush of tension and adrenaline means Hardcore Henry has a lot of excitement to generate in only a minimal time-frame plus the remainder of the film to raise the stakes. I’m not asserting that all great action movies have a slow and methodical acceleration of action and tension, but it’s still an effective strategy nonetheless, especially if you only have so many cards to put on the table. Hardcore Henry seems to only have one card in its deck, its first-person perspective gimmick. This makes it tricky to establish tension with anything besides the whole “everyone’s out to get me” and “gotta recharge my batteries” aspects. I suppose it’s good to keep things simple, especially with a premise like this, but after a while, it starts to drag. It’s the same issue that recurs in the Transformers franchise, where you see so many explosions that they just become boring, you’re totally desensitized, which, for this kind of movie, makes you look like a psychopath.

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“That’s so sweet that if I had a cup of tea, I wouldn’t need any sugar.”

Hardcore Henry also suffers from an overloaded frame. There’s just too many things happening on screen to appreciate the uniqueness of the premise. You actually understand why not many films are shot like this, because it’s nauseating and claustrophobic. This could almost work if the film wasn’t one big action/chase scene. I wanted more of those moments of heightened anticipation, maybe where Henry is directed by some sound that the audience can tell is coming from a particular corner of the frame. His feverish head/camera movements would sync perfectly with the audience’s. I think the most engaging scene in Hardcore Henry was the one-man chase scene. This scene works well because we know what Henry is after, and the fact that he has to chase him for an extended period of time means there’s a decent match-up in speed, so it’s a good challenge. I think these are the scenes that worked best in Hardcore Henry, because they gave a clear indication of direction, of a story moving forward rather than all over the place.

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“This next part might hurt.”

What ultimately holds Hardcore Henry down though is that it frankly isn’t all that fun. Sure, there’s a lot of violence and mayhem, who doesn’t love that? But I still believe that violence has to be earned to be gratifying. How you “earn it” is an indeterminate process, but essentially, you have to win us over to the hero’s side, and while I felt for Henry’s frustration at losing his wife and humanity, I could never ground myself enough in his character -or lack thereof- to be one with Henry’s emotional status. But, then again, maybe that’s not the point of Hardcore Henry. Maybe it’s just supposed to be this fun, over-the-top vicarious send-off to first-person beat-em-ups. It’s definitely trying to be that, but it’s not quite clever enough to pull it off. Sure, we have Sharlto Copley to lighten the tone, and he fits perfectly as the Navi -I know there are better examples, but all I know is Zelda, forgive me- of this video-game style world, but there are so many other additional nods that could have been made. If you want my definition of a perfect video game send-off, watch Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, or the ‘Fight Fighters’ episode of Gravity Falls. Maybe I’m just looking for video game references in all the wrong places, but this feels like a huge missed opportunity.

“Henry, fight back! You are capable of more than you think.”

Hardcore Henry is still exactly what you paid for: a mind-numbing head spin of brain-splattering violence. What took me out of it was the haphazardness of its technique. Hardcore Henry isn’t quite the adrenaline-pumped 2-hour long road trip of Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s more like that spring break road trip where you’re on the road for four hours until your idiot friend realizes he made a wrong turn about 2 hours ago. I was bored throughout three-quarters of the movie, busy thinking up ways in which this movie could have been cooler, like what if it was all edited to look like one long take like in Birdman. Sure, it would have taken a lot of time and effort, but from the looks of the premise, I wouldn’t put it past this movie to try. Really though, if you’re looking for a dumb, relentless, loud, all-up-in-your-face, head-busting action flick without any method to its madness, Hardcore Henry is the movie for you, psycho!

My Rating: 5/10

Hardcore Henry Mondo-art-by-Cesar-Moreno

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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