Hardcore Henry is a film in which a badass protagonist goes on a plotless journey with the same guy playing every video game cliche in the book, so as to smash a bad guy, and rescue his wife. (Presumably so he can smash her in very different ways) Even its very cover lies to the audience in true action flick fashion. showing helicopters and an island fortress as Henry dual-wields pistols. Yeah, that's not in the movie. There's also, as you'd expect, plenty of good old fashioned gore in this R-rated, wild ride of a film. I mean, the title sounds like a bad porno. Oh, and there's a slight twist to this formula.
Hardcore Henry isn't just any porno title, because this one's POV. So, yeah, the entire film, whole damn thing, flashbacks included, take place in first person. The basic premise is fairly simple. Henry, this man, is caught in an accident and turned into a cyborg. His girlfriend, Estelle, has revived him, but just before they can give him his voice back, this bad guy, Akan, with his army of bad guys, kidnaps her. Henry is joined by Jimmy, a repeatedly-dying madman who keeps appearing in different forms.
Some things to add: Occasionally, Henry's (seemingly abusive) dad shows up in flashbacks. Akan has unexplained psychic powers. The entire thing is very game-esque, with things like a damsel in distress, a plucky companion, and lots of guns. Crazy setpieces ensue, and Henry is chased by cops, mercenaries, a psychic, and nonetheless, quickly turns the tables on his enemies.
The scene that establishes Hardcore Henry is just after the introductory scene. Henry lands, and, wasting no time, kills one of his pursuers with a windshield wiper. Yeah, there's a lot of awesome murder in this film. If you can stomach plenty of violence, it can be a joy.
Hardcore Henry also received a tie-in with PAYDAY 2, which was... really solid, honestly, and by all indications, canon. It owes much of its legacy to video games, and since PAYDAY 2 is the industry bicycle for crossovers, it was almost inevitable. However, the care HH gives to its game influences are significant, not only in the perspective, but in the tropes. Jimmy appears as nearly every sort of shooter fan imaginable, from a solemn English Colonel to a crazy punk-rock mohawked machete wielder a la Fallout's raiders. Henry is silent, like many game protagonists, but honestly, Jimmy stands out far more as essentially the real protagonist.
Jimmy is easily meant to represent the audience, specifically that of gamers, and yet he has an odd sense of showmanship fitting to him. From flamboyant personality to flamboyant personality, Jimmy steals the show in every scene he is in. He, in the same damn movie, performs a brief musical number, dramatically dies dozens of times, does coke, is homeless, is stoned off his ass, sets a brothel on fire, wears leaves on his body, and blows up the roof of his own house.
Jimmy is highly entertaining, and the movie? Eh, mostly. It tends toward childish and vulgar before clever, and Henry being silent means that the crazy awesome of the film is not, sadly, supplemented by stupid one-liners, other than those Jimmy provides. Akan, the main villain, is highly undercooked, and his actual psychic powers go completely unexplained. Still, it's a wild ride. Holy fuck, is it a wild ride. Not a smart ride, not a formal ride, not a very well-written ride, but a wild one all the same.
Hardcore Henry is touted as the video game action film by many of its fans, but I got more of a vibe of old, 80s Arnie flicks from it. It focuses more on that style of idiotic, simple fun and carnage than it does on video game tropes. HH is not a clever film, but it comes off very much as a story from a different era at times.
While I've never watched its inspiration, the Crank films, I assume it takes its fast-paced, adrenaline-heavy direction from that, and that works to its favor. You're often caught up in the confusing, yet simple plot and the crazy action too much to notice the film's flaws. Despite this, Henry does have a bit of an emotional core, most notably in the form of Henry himself.
Henry is actually surprisingly expressive. You get a heavy vibe of his personality despite his silence, between his snarky, juveline tendencies (Responding to Jimmy's questions about his wife with a "so-so" gesture) utter confusion at things (His reactions to Jimmy) and a surprising innocence at times (The way he acts toward Estelle and him trying to reassure Jimmy are both great and expressive scenes). Jim Sterling states on the 2016 DOOM that its use of an expressive and silent Doom Slayer is one of its best qualities, and Henry is similar. He also has a sense of poetic justice, as shown in an incident where he kills a corrupt cop trying to assault a woman. (The cop says "It's okay when you get past the gag reflex". Henry runs his baton down his throat, breaking his jaw.)
Henry's dynamics with Jimmy are also a lot of fun. Henry's constant confusion and "Fuck it, let's roll" attitude toward Jimmy's antics make him a hilarious straight man. You get the vibe that before all this, Henry was a rather chill dude. He's also mostly silent, but the one time he does speak, it's a motherfucking doozy, albeit a quiet, easily-missed one.
Henry only speaks one full line after the introduction of the film: A small "No" that you could easily miss. It's the first real sign of Henry's real rebellion, as he says it toward Estelle's capture, almost as if he is pleading. Despite not being finished and lacking a voice box, Henry still manages to whisper "No" because he is so driven by this. This is actually cool foreshadowing to what happens later, when some key facts are revealed to our silent protagonist.
The action sequences stand out for being heavily reliant on obvious shaky-cam, but being borderline Oner, since it's done in first person. Some awesome sequences occur, in particular one near the end done with bare fists, and an awesome one taking place on a road involving a minigun and tons of great cinematography.
The way the action scenes were shot in first person was a combination of clever cutting and a head-rig camera on a man. I won't pretend to know how it works, but I do know it definitely does work. Action is blurry and intense, but always clear and fast enough to be enjoyable. Practical effects and CGI alike are mostly employed well, although there are some definite goofs when it comes to visuals.
Lastly, before we get to spoilers, should you watch this moving picture? Absolutely. I don't know if it's good. I don't care. It's casually stupid, it's not something you should watch when you expect something good. Instead, pop some popcorn, run a drinking game like my friend and I did with how many video game tropes show up, and then watch the awesome action direction and the vulgar, stupid, juvenile humor. Because, honestly, it's all fun.
Spoilers start here.
So, you know how I said the movie wasn't smart? I mean, that holds true, certainly, certainly, but it does have a neat twist on the narrative. So, this Estelle chick, the damsel in distress? She's not so in distress. This is when the film actually starts being clever, but not so clever it wants to revel in its own "look at us, we're smart" energy. Instead, it has fun being dumb with a clever twist.
Estelle is the wife, and genuine lover, of supervillain Akan. Gasp. Shocked gasp. Okay, it's kinda obvious in retrospect, but it's cleverly foreshadowed and kinda fun. It's a nice twist on the objectified beautiful woman character. All the memories of her being Henry's girlfriend are false, including the one of them smashing. No, not in the way Akan is gonna get smashed, although Akan does give Henry an extended spiteful smooch later.
Jimmy actually worked with Akan on some stuff involving cloning and psychic powers, and turns out to actually be a cripple with psychic control of his clones. Okay, that's bullshit, but it's entertaining bullshit. Most of the film is entertaining bullshit.
Now, the film drags here. Things don't go so well, and there's a lot of fun battles with mercenaries, but they're not ultimately too meaningful. Eventually, Henry and Jimmy mount up, and invade Akan's base. Now, credit to the film: Use of Nine Inch Nails and the killing of an endearing character made the climax extremely, extremely compelling and satisfying. After an awesome action sequence in which Henry takes on his fellow cyborgs set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", we get the reveal of his father's words: Specifically, he's deliberately quoting in harshness the words of his own father, who was abusive. Henry's father instead states that he'll never hurt Henry, and makes a surprisingly compassionate speech about his son and his decisions. This boosts Henry's esteem, and Henry continues to kick ass.
One of the film's best scenes is after he successfully butchers Akan, weirdly enough. After that, Estelle, the monster who had been posing as his wife, in a rare moment of empathy, questions just how Henry could kill her husband, who, mind you, was a total bastard who enjoyed committing vile murder and manipulation. Henry's response? He writes "EZ" on the walls with Akan's blood. She ends up hanging out of the helicopter, and tries to appeal to Henry one last time, saying to let his heart decide. His heart does decide... and it decides to close the helicopter door on her hands, ending the film at the impact.
Okay, it's not a smart film, or a merciful film, or, you know, the kind of film where the hero doesn't casually execute his fake wife even though he doesn't have to. It's actually in some places sexist, often placing women as damsels in distress, and the only strong woman is a villain who is entirely reliant on her husband.
Despite that? It ties in greatly to its inspirations, which are video games and 80s, Arnie-type action flicks. It's got all the shit they could throw into it, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. Not good fun, but bad, bad fun. It's bad. Still, though, that action direction doesn't lie. The music choices for many scenes ring similarly awesome, and the sheer creativity and willingness to throw all pretense of goodness aside for something just plain fun is on full display. Parkour, shooting, sword vs. tank, horse-riding, (sorta) psychics, gore, you name it, HH has got it. Unless you're talking about intelligence, strong female characters, good writing, or worldbuilding. Other than those things.
Funnily enough, HH feels less like a shooter and more like a Platinum Game. I could easily see Henry's spectacle action scenes translating well to that style. Its insane, gonzo plot, juvenile dialogue, and kickass action sequences make it a hell of a watch... if not a good one.
Also, here's a pretty cool action scene from it. (Up to 1:25) I have no idea how to end a blog, so let's stop it here before I descend into how meaningful the colors of Estelle's dress are and how Akan's powers are cleverly matched with Henry's, because that's shit I do on my own time.