‘Hardcore Henry’ – Film is light on story, but delivers on its promise

Old genres are tackled through new eyes in “Hardcore Henry,” a frantic action spectacle from director Ilya Naishuller. Following the tradition of over-the-top flicks of the past, the film shows audiences the world through the eyes of an elite action hero, with varying degrees of success.

Timothy Hogg

Timothy Hogg

Henry (The audience) has just woken up, and doesn’t remember much – mainly because he’s been resurrected by his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), and rebuild as a cybernetic super-soldier. But before Estelle can finish the procedure, she is interrupted by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a telekinetic warlord who intends to use Henry’s blueprint for his own cyborg army. With his wife kidnapped, Henry finds himself lost in the streets of Moscow, and a mysterious British agent, Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), seems to be Henry’s only hope to rescue Estelle and stop Akan.

Since their heyday of popularity, action films have almost become a parody of themselves; they are well-known for overused tropes and clichs featuring unstoppable protagonists, unbelievable situations, damsels in distress, and smug villains with little motivation. In one regard, “Hardcore Henry” is a complete embodiment of every action film from the past thirty years: The filmmakers have seemingly tried to include as many of these plot points as possible, not to tell a new story but to present these elements in a fresh way.

It should be noted, however, that the film is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart. A fight scene in a typical action film can be thrilling enough, but the up-close encounters shown via Henry’s perspective provide extremely detailed and gory results. The film’s subject matter is intended for mature audiences, often pushing the boundaries of the R-rating while pursuing its promised spectacle.

For the most part, the film does provide ludicrous, grotesque, and unbelievable antics, through the eyes of its main character. On its own, in a traditional format, the story would be undeniably average, with many set pieces abhorrently typical. However, the film thrives on what is admittingly a gimmick; the first-person point-of-view puts the audience in the place of the character, but is smoother and easier to follow than hand-held “found footage” films.

The narrative also bears a strong resemblance to another form of media: Video games. The influence of first-person shooter video games – from the original “Doom” to modern favorites like “Call of Duty” or “Halo” – have a heavy hand in shaping the film. Often, there are nods and references to video game actions, such as kicking open obstacles, completing objectives within time limits, and even “respawning” after a death in battle. The writers incorporate legitimate uses for these elements amid a thin story of action clichs, focused on the most ridiculous situations they can show the audience.

“Hardcore Henry,” is a fast-paced, ultra-violent action spectacle from director Ilya Naishuller, shown through the eyes of a gun-toting, unstoppable bermensch. While the film is particularly light on story, it has no restraints when it comes to insane action mayhem and wanton violence – perhaps too much for some in the audience – and delivers on what it claims to be: Hardcore.

My grade: 7 out of 10 stars.

(Timothy Hogg is a copy editor for The Derrick./The News-Herald. He has a minor in film and media studies from Slippery Rock University. Readers may contact him by email at timothyhogg.thederrick@gmail.com.)