Film Review – Hardcore Henry
Going into Hardcore Henry, I was worried I’d get sick from all the frantic, jumpy camera work and whiz-bang special effects. Surprisingly, I had less nausea than expected, but more sleepiness towards the end as Henry’s efficiency in killing faceless bad guys grows too predictable. Hardcore’s kryptonite must be tedium.
Written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, this film is shot entirely from Henry’s perspective and the mind frame of a twelve-year-old gamer. Nothing but knives and guns and shootin’ and head explosions and boobs. The title sequence is set to a slow-motion montage of bullets entering torsos and knives thrust through throats and emerging gracefully on the other side, like the opening to a Bond film but with less naked silhouettes and more gaping chest wounds. It sets off this ode to graphic violence and slyly hints at the fluidity of the film’s choreography that could only be achieved through the marvelous abilities of its stuntmen and tight control over the fight and chase sequences.
That is all Henry does: chase and fight, fight and chase. He is a cyborg with artificial limbs and organs, “mostly artificial by now” he is told. He wakes up in a lab with a scientist, Estelle (Haley Bennett), calling herself his wife and attaching his new prosthetic left leg and arm onto his body. He had been broken by the warlord Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), he is told, and they are restoring him. Just shy of gaining his voice back, Akan breaks into the lab and takes Estelle hostage, leading Henry to rampage through Moscow to find her. His only assistance comes from a mysterious mercenary named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) whose modus operandi is to lead Henry on a scavenger hunt throughout the city to look for batteries to recharge his heart.
Alternately referencing The Matrix, Avatar, Crank, and A Clockwork Orange (watch the final fight scene with the mass of Droogish cyborgs), Henry reflects as much of society’s lust for violence as its growing numbness to it. Villains are faceless and interchangeable, coming at Henry as hordes of slow-witted but resilient automatons. The cast list for the women of the film fall includes the following characters: girlfriend, madam, whore, prostitute, girl in brothel, and rape victim. A few get special descriptions, such as “angry prostitute” or “flying brothel girl.” That last one stood out from the other naked fem-bots in platinum wigs because she didn’t seem completely jaded to the occurrence of rampaging he-men terrorizing the brothel and splitting heads open with serving trays.
All the bullets and blood spatter are countered by the butterfly wings of Sharlto Copley, whose performance as Jimmy of the Thousand Faces is a ballet of movement and frenzied control. Without giving too much away, he provides the humor behind the mayhem as his split personalities push Henry to keep going. The scene where Jimmy sings and dances to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in the secret lab, twirling and collapsing and preening for the camera, is as graceful as the ensuing scene of he and Henry against a swarm of super-soldiers, swirling down the levels of an abandoned building as a central elevator glides towards the ground floor.
There is no beginning or end to Henry, only the middle and the now. The film blanches at plot and character development, focusing on the visceral over the thoughtful. It is essentially a treatise on the action sequence, systematically breaking down the physiology of a fight scene over ninety minutes. Over the cross-beams of a bridge, onto the zip lines dangling from a helicopter, atop the roof of a sky rise: there is little need to speak. Pugilism is the dialogue of movement, and Henry doesn’t stop yammering until the last second.