Hardcore Henry (2015)

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*. I’ve written before, quite a lot actually, about how the dominant action film aesthetic of the twenty-first century has been that of the video game. This informs everything from character (negligible) to plot (episodic levels featuring challenges of rising difficulty), and most of all to visual texture, encompassing such things as perspective, editing, composition, and mise-en-scene. What you are watching, if you are watching a Hollywood blockbuster today, is a cartoon or comic-book fantasy animated with CGI. In other words, a video game.
*. My notes on recent action films have, in particular, pointed out how often fight scenes now just resolve into first-person shooter (FPS) games. See, for example, what I’ve said about John Wick, or the remake of RoboCop (both 2014). Hardcore Henry takes this a step further, being nothing but an extended FPS. See for yourself (while imagining a rock soundtrack, classic or contemporary, playing in the background):

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*. I don’t want this intro to make it sound as though I hated Hardcore Henry. It’s important to register though that it’s a movie more indebted to various video games and video game franchises (Doom, Call of Duty, etc., etc.) than other films. Yes, there’s a nod to the early POV noir Lady in the Lake, and the opening, with Henry being awakened, recalls the resurrection of RoboCop in the original film, but these are incidental. The source material here is all FPS. In the final battle we even have Henry “powering up” twice (with a replaced battery and a double jolt of adrenaline) before using a bunch of floating bodies as platforms to jump from, much like Mario himself. It’s that kind of movie.
*. The reason I think it’s important to note this is because this is a movie that, even among its critics, gets a lot of credit for being highly original. I don’t think it is, since it contains nothing the target audience wouldn’t already be very familiar with. The POV business is a gimmick, and not an original conceit by any stretch of the imagination. Even if you’re not a gamer, the look is much the same as any of the more frantically paced shaky cam films of the period, like Rec and Cloverfield.
*. Another thing Hardcore Henry gets a lot of credit for is the quality of the stunts. I wonder how people can even tell. There’s a lot of parkour-style running and jumping around that made me wince for the damage being done to someone’s knees, but the more spectacular stuff was so choppily edited I couldn’t tell what was going on most of the time. What’s the point of having great stunt work if you can’t see it?
*. But like I say, I don’t want to just hate on this movie. It’s not my thing, but there’s no denying its energy. I didn’t think the story made any sense, or at least wasn’t explained adequately, but I enjoyed some of the absurdist humour provided by the character of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and thought the crotch-sniffing, psychokinetic villain Akan was interesting enough. It’s just that the whole thing left me feeling a special kind of empty, like I’d just watched a 90-minute trailer or some guy playing a game online. For a movie that puts so much stock in putting you into the driver’s seat, it’s an alienating experience. You end up feeling less like a participant than a spectator for a bit of fun that somebody else is having.

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