I was thinking…
…certain things are actually more exciting to see as a spectator than as a participant. Parkour, otherwise known as free running is one. Fist fighting to the death would certainly qualify. And falling onto pavement would definitely be another.
There’s plenty of all of those in the all point-of-view film, Hardcore Henry.
The titular character, Henry (performed by various stuntmen), awakens in a vat after presumably being killed in the opening credit sequence. An attractive blonde female doctor (Haley Bennett—The Equalizer) explains Henry has had a vast procedure in order to save his life, resulting in him becoming a cyborg.
She informs him as to the loss of both his memory and his voice moments before the facility they are in is infiltrated by the man responsible for Henry’s transition–a telekinetic psychopath named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky—The Spy).
After a brief attempt at escape, Henry’s wife is recaptured and Akan’s men have Henry surrounded, until a man who professes to be an old friend, named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley—Chappie, The A-Team), comes to the rescue.
Just when things are starting to sort themselves out, Jimmy is killed and replaced by…Jimmy. Identical in name, looks and mission, the new Jimmy vows to aid Henry in the rescue of his wife and in the eradication of Akan’s nefarious schemes.
In 2005, a movie based on the groundbreaking first person shooter video game, Doom, was released, garnering limited appeal. As an homage to the game itself, in the climax of the movie, the protagonist–played by Karl Urban–enters a several minute rampage, shot entirely in point-of-view, or POV. At the time, the cinematic choice was considered somewhat hokey, gimmicky and more than a little vertiginous.
Over a decade later, however, I have heard several times from other people that the movie would have been better had the filmmakers taken more of a risk and shot more if not all of the film in a like manner.
Those people now have their wish fulfilled in Hardcore Henry.
But are the same complaints about that short sequence in Doom justified yet again for this first person shooter feature film?
On the surface–yes. Although the POV idea may not be novel, the film is certainly still a novelty. And as with any other novelty–like a parrot that can mimic Flavor Flav–the charm wears off quickly.
With Hardcore Henry, that charm is gone faster than a plate of cookies at a Weight Watchers meeting the moment Henry engages in hand-to-hand combat. So jarring and incomprehensible are these pugilistic images, there is almost no point in attempting to watch the film during these sequences.
As the entire movie was shot on GoPro cameras, there is also the image problem inherent with such rigs. GoPro’s utilize wide angle lenses–sometimes referred to as fish-eye lenses. These lenses tend to distort the image at the edge of the field of view and they grossly alter perceived distance as well. Take a look at the revival scene at the beginning of the trailer…
Those are some long-ass legs, Henry.
The warped depth perception also means falls are not quite as dramatic as they would be if shot with a prime lens, and the fairly frequent moments of Parkour fall disappointingly flat, never reaching the awe-inspiring feats achieved in films like Casino Royale (2006) or District B13 (2004).
The wide angle lens does have an advantage, however, in that it does a passing imitation of peripheral vision–something not achievable with normal lenses. The peripheral field–averaging 100 degrees for most people and expanding to 170 degrees for total field of view–is something lacking in first person shooter games, which robs those forays of fun of that added bit of realism.
That being said, the pounding imagery and rattling movement combined with the obscene amounts of blood and gore in the film mean Hardcore Henry demands a strong stomach and a strong constitution.
So graphic are many of the images in the film, the first few seconds of opening credits alone are enough to garner the picture an R-rating. And it just keeps right on earning it until the final credits begin to roll.
Wound within the ejections of effluvium is a fairly steady stream of humor, though–necessary injections of levity in an otherwise highly disturbing flick.
Sharlto Copley is largely responsible for the mirth-filled moments. Regardless of his incarnation, he is the true star of the film. A South African native, he flips between accents as diverse as the myriad roles he has played to date.
On the other hand, his bookend ally, played by Haley Bennett, does not manage to achieve such distinctly different performances. As a wounded and frightened wife, she does a fine job, but anything else comes off as flat as a cardboard standup.
The story also takes some getting used to, especially as it is particularly light on exposition. As long as you are not too concerned about how on earth a blonde Russian version of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor wields the Force, then I guess the exposition isn’t all too important.
If one approaches this as a first person shooter, id est if one concentrates on the parts of the movie when Henry is actually shooting things (which is, admittedly, most of the movie), then it is an extremely energetic, adrenaline-soaked ride that will have the most intriguing side-effect. And I don’t mean nausea.
Nope. When you leave the theater, expect the whole world to seem oddly more exciting. One would think watching a 90 minute first person violence fest would have the opposite effect, but for some reason, the most mundane activities immediately following a viewing of Hardcore Henry are limned in a whole new light.
In that respect, the filmmakers certainly succeeded. The idea of the film–including the aspect of the protagonist not speaking–is meant to place the viewer within the film itself–to make you feel as if you are actually carrying out these amazing feats of derring-do. To the filmmakers I say, ‘Well done.’ Walking to my car and driving home has never seemed more thrilling.
The drawback is, I started looking at everybody I saw and every car I passed as a potential threat.
As a huge fan of the Call of Duty series of video games, Star Wars Battlefront, Battlefield and pretty much any other first person shooter with the word ‘battle’ in the title, I found Hardcore Henry to be an exciting, bullet-paced action flick. I believe it to be an extremely successful interpretation of that genre, as will anyone else who enjoys fighting the enemies of freedom from the comfort of their own living room.
Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 bullets
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Run time: 96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)