It’s been nearly 25 years since Wolfenstein 3D and Doom lit the fuse of the first-person-shooter game explosion. And ever since then, their immersive, violent aesthetic has been slowly seeping into mainstream action films. Hollywood’s adoption of the adrenalized look and feel of these videogames, whether it’s in The Matrix, District 9, or Edge of Tomorrow, makes complete sense when you think about it. After all, these videogames not only put you inside all of the bloody mayhem—making you a participant in the carnage—they also tend to make a ton of money. That all-sizzle style has now officially reached its apotheosis in Hardcore Henry, a hypercaffeinated first-person action flick that teeters somewhere between gonzo insanity and a nausea-inducing endurance test.
Underwritten and overdirected by the Russian musician and actor Ilya Naishuller, the film blasts off with our unseen “hero,” Henry, waking up on an operating table in a sterile, high-tech facility not unlike Peter Weller’s half-man/half-machine did in RoboCop. Henry can’t talk, but he can see. And what he sees over the next 90 breathless minutes is what we’ll see. The first thing that comes into his view is Estelle (The Equalizer’s Haley Bennett), a gorgeous engineer in a white lab coat who informs Henry that she’s his wife while she fits his mangled body with bionic prosthetic limbs. Henry doesn’t remember anything, but he’s clearly been on the business end of a brutal run-in, and he’s now being reborn as some sort of cyborg killing machine. Before he can process any of this, though, a bunch of goons with machine guns storm in. They belong to the evil Akan (Danila Kozlovsky)—a telekinetic albino villain in a platinum fright wig who’s probably meant to resemble Andy Warhol but looks more like Crispin Glover playing Andy Warhol in The Doors.
What is Akan’s deal? How did he come into possession of his supernatural gifts? Why is our hero on the run from him? And how does the one guy who seems interested in helping Henry (a highly entertaining Sharlto Copley) keep coming back from the dead after getting cartoonishly stabbed, shot, and lit on fire? Only some of these questions will be answered. But Hardcore Henry isn’t a movie about answers or inconveniences like narrative and logic. Naishuller’s MO is simpler than that: He just wants to put Henry—and us—through a queasy, herky-jerky wringer of GoPro-captured jumping and sprinting, maiming and mauling, and slicing and dicing with the maximum amount of rock & roll splatter. He makes Guy Ritchie look like David Lean. I’m sure a lot of people will call Hardcore Henry “innovative” and “groundbreaking.” And maybe it is. But it also feels more like a cool gimmick than a movie—and that gimmick gets old pretty fast. C