Reviews: Hardcore Henry
Would be Embarrassed to Watch This with My Dad
Its loopy villains and cartoonish side characters feel like they are borrowed from Far Cry 3, its scenarios from Call of Duty, and its first person parkour from Mirror's Edge, but the first thing I'm reminded of when I watch the First person shooter action movie Hardcore Henry, is the Crank films. Henry tries to capture that same frantic, forward momentum of Crank, in which the protagonist's life depends on him crashing along from location to location like a runaway freight train. The big difference is that Crank, whilst similarly informed by videogame logic, actually feels like a tight, fresh and original movie. Henry feels derivative and amateurish in almost every respect. First there is the story, which is basically an excuse plot doled out in something equivalent to video game cut scenes, with a campy super villain wrestling control away from the protagonist every time he swaggers in. There's some throwaway nonsense about cloned super soldiers or cyborgs or whatever. I wouldn't normally mind this stuff in a videogame, where you as a player take on the role of the protagonist, but we are in a movie and don't actually have that level of control. Instead we have to watch some unseen dude flail and gesture at things. A lot of the fun of Crank was watching how wound up Jason Statham was getting with his ridiculous circumstances, and a first person camera view sacrifices this whilst giving us none of the benefits of actually playing a videogame. As soon as these titbits are over, the movie switches to the hero charging through walls of enemies, shooting, bashing and bombing them in a various inventive ways. On one hand this is an impressive and genuinely well choreographed movie, but on the other, I found myself distracted by the less than stellar production values. Poorly disguised camera cuts are constant and jarring, and some of the CGI sticks out like a sore thumb. If this was simply some six minute youtube movie you could forgive these technical limitations, but it is much harder when you have to watch them nonstop for 90 minutes. It all gets a tad tiresome. One arbitrarily applied metric I use to judge the quality of a movie is whether I would happily watch it with my Dad in the room. My parents can stomach a lot; my Dad's favourite movie is about a bunch of Nazis discussing how best to massacre Jews, and I wouldn't feel the slightest bit fazed watching Nymphomaniac or BrainDead around him. But I would if I was watching Henry. I do whenever there isn't enough their to justify something's gratuitous nature, whether for plot or for laughs or whatever. I can imagine my dad tutting, shaking his head, and asking me if there is anything else on that's better worth my time. I agree, there probably is.
The pinnacle of style over substance
This is a very violent film. The opening credits make it extremely clear, what with various shots of gory violence in slow motion close up, and it very rarely lets up from there in any way, assuming the title of the film didn't tip you off of course. The plot (such as it is) is incredibly clichéd. It's basically a 90 minute revenge rampage. In a similar fashion to Shoot Em Up any non-action scenes are solely in the film to explain how our protagonist segues from one massive shoot out to the next... and that's about it. Save one exposition bomb courtesy of (one of) Sharlto Copley's characters it's pretty much entirely fight scene after fight scene. Of course, the USP is that these are all done ENTIRELY in first person perspective... ... And for the most part, it works. Yeah, there are times when this makes it confusing as to what exactly is going on but when it works (which is most of the time), it really works well. There's a frantic pace to everything and a soundtrack that basically drives the whole thing along. While none of the settings or scenes are anything at all new or revolutionary, seeing them from a new perspective does make them SEEM pretty new and interesting. As to performances, well again these tend to suffer from the nature of the film. Our main character doesn't say a word throughout. The main villain is basically an 80s card-carrying ham (with mind powers, that are never explained or justified at all.) Sharlto Copley appears in multiple roles and mostly appears to be engaging in a scenery chewing contest WITH HIMSELF. (He wins.) But these are embraced by the film and again remind me of the inspiration - the old school, characterisation-light FPS game of the 80s and 90s that were literally excuses to run around shooting things. (I am aware there were/are exceptions but those exceptions don't appear to have been in the film's creators' minds.) On the down side... there has been talk of a sexist attitude to the film and honestly? I can't really argue the point. Pretty much all the female characters are sex workers who then get killed, save the main villain's wife who is as evil as he is with as little explanation. It's hardly admirable but the film isn't really a gender politics piece - it's a giant action sequence and that's about it. This is a film where the premise alone probably makes you think hell yes or no way. Go with your gut as it won't change any minds, but if you do want to see it, see it on the big screen.