Editor’s Note: Hardcore Henry opened in wide theatrical release April 8, 2016.
There’s a lot to be said for the power of gimmicks to draw crowds into theater seats. Even when they’re not certain they’ll enjoy it, masses will almost instantly pay out of their own pockets to witness a new and exciting filmmaking technique, whether for better or worse. That impulsivity isn’t their fault at all, it’s just often a matter of the gimmick that excites them looking more alluring in a headline than within logic or reasoning. In Hardcore Henry‘s case, that gimmick is a first-person perspective maintained for 90-minutes with a GoPro rig, a silent protagonist, and dangerous stuntwork. Reading about that on Twitter somewhere, your first thought might be, “Oh wow, that’s interesting, I’ve gotta see this.” Hell, that was my first thought too. But, ruminate on it, really stop to think for a second, and you might be thinking, “This needs to be shot steadily and pulled off well if it’s gonna be worth anything.”
Hardcore Henry isn’t a film, really, by proper definition. It’s not even a movie, it’s just an amalgamation of several shakily shot, hyperkinetic, blurry attempts to appeal to its audience’s testosterone.
You’d be right to think that, you’d be so, wholeheartedly, profoundly right to think that. If you don’t care and simply want to see how this turns out, good or bad, then by all means see Hardcore Henry. You’re not in the wrong for wanting to do so, you’re just human. However, if you do care about spending your time rewardingly, and are appropriately skeptical of that first-person gimmick, then please stay home. Hardcore Henry isn’t a film, really, by proper definition. It’s not even a movie, it’s just an amalgamation of several shakily shot, hyperkinetic, blurry attempts to appeal to its audience’s testosterone. The single, solitary goal it bears in mind is to be hardcore before anything else, to make the frat bros in the audience cackle. Every gunshot, every punch, every stabbing feels grimy, not fun, because most (if not all) scenes are structured around how to perform the cruelest possible execution and nothing else. It doesn’t matter that those dying are the bad guys, because the cinematic language of these vignettes is skewed beyond fixing (if we’re pretending Hardcore Henry is actually cinematic). The very best of intense action always orchestrates a proper amount of disdain for the opposition, forces our hero through a struggle, and naturally guides (not forces) retaliation to being a rewarding choice. Hardcore Henry doesn’t do that, Hardcore Henry just makes a screaming Russian man run at the camera with a tire iron so Henry can expose his flesh to the open air. It wastes admittedly impressive stuntwork and feels horribly wrong to be watching, not enjoyable.
The first-person gimmick employed for 90 minutes really is a fun idea, but that’s all it should be. An idea, or a short film, or anything other than this.
Beyond its action, Hardcore Henry is also a grimy experience thanks to its reprehensible depictions of women. All featured female characters are portrayed as either leather-bound annoyances, helpless victims, naked sex objects, or backstabbing deceivers. Whether on purpose or by accident, the audience is being told, “Don’t you hate how women shout at you all the time? And isn’t it irritating that they always need your help? You should just bang them now while you can, before they turn on you.” Even if this is unintentional, it gives the alcoholic domestic abusers in this world a feature-length reminder to keep doing what they’re doing. It’s tragic that Sharlto Copley, an actor who seems to have more passion than bones in his body, is saddled with this. He might be the only semblance of guilt-free enjoyment to be found here, yet his characters (he plays multiple) still manage to be several stereotypes, not offensive ones, just ones that grow old with time. And the first-person gimmick employed for 90 minutes really is a fun idea, but that’s all it should be. An idea, or a short film, or anything other than this. I’m the target demographic, a 17-year-old male, and still it infuriated me.
Hardcore Henry might be original, it might be something we haven’t seen before, but it’s defined by toxic masculinity, and turns the adrenaline it seeks to exploit into fuel for displeasure.
Hardcore Henry isn't a film, but rather an amalgamation of several shakily shot, hyperkinetic, blurry attempts to appeal to its audience's testosterone.