One of the things that I’m surprised hasn’t happened more frequently has been the use of first person sequences in major films. Considering how it is one of the dominant forms of presentation in numerous narrative mediums (books and video games for example), I’d have thought that film would jump at the chance but there have actually been very few films to take advantage of the first person perspective. Thankfully, we have Hardcore Henry, which uses the first person perspective to create one of the most immersive and entertaining action films I’ve seen in a long time.The film concerns Henry, a man who has been brought back from the dead as a cyborg by his wife with no memory of his life before he was brought back and without a voice. Just before his speech implant is installed, the facility he’s in gets attacked by Akan, a telekinetic who wants to use the technology in Henry to create a cyborg army to take over the world. However, Henry is able to escape and, with the help of Jimmy, a mysterious man who seems to come back from the dead multiple times, goes after Akan to rescue his wife, who was kidnapped by Akan. Now the entire structure of the film is based around a video game, the whole structure of the plot, the nature of Henry as a protagonist, everything related to Akan and the character of Jimmy clearly follows the structure of a first person video game. A lot of the humour in the film comes from this, such as Jimmy acting as a NPC who provides Jimmy with the quests he needs to capture Akan, even providing him with the location for them. This style lets you know exactly what type of film you are getting with Hardcore Henry and that is a completely insane and incredibly entertaining film. All of the developments in the plot feel natural for this type of set up and the film takes advantage of the first person perspective to create some really interesting twists later on in the film. The twists also come through subverting the whole feel of the film and the video game like structure revolving around the nature of Henry and the whole narrative structure of the film, reminding me a lot of Bioshock, and these twists in turn make the rest of the film a lot more intelligent than you originally give it credit for. Although, that’s not saying much. The film revels in it’s style and goes completely over the top and gratuitous with everything that takes place throughout the film and when these elements are introduced, a lot of incredibly entertaining set pieces are seen. The humour also comes through subverting expectations, mainly regarding the indestructable nature of Henry, with these scenes, particularly one involving a horse and a brilliant use of music, being the comic highlight of the film. If there is a criticism I have it’s that I wish some of the world was more fleshed out, mainly revolving around Akan, such as how his business and mercenary system works, along with how he gained his telekinetic powers, but when you’re watching the film, you’re so caught up in the insanity that you don’t really notice.
The acting meanwhile is exactly what you’d expect from this type of film: completely over the top. The most over the top performance, and the most entertaining in the film, is easily Sharlto Copley as Jimmy, mainly because of all the different characters he plays in the film. Sure, all of them are Jimmy, but they’re different aspects of Jimmy, all of them being a lot of fun to watch, even if we don’t see some of them for that long. The film even uses the different Jimmy’s to create some brilliantly bizarre setpieces. Out of the Jimmy’s we see, the ones that were the most entertaining were Hippie Jimmy because of how laid back he is and Colonel Jimmy because of how stereotypically British he was. Copley also adds a lot of depth to the character near the end of the film, although I won’t spoil it here. Haley Bennett as Henry’s wife Estelle does a good job showing her love for Henry, although the character does feel a bit bland. However, the performance becomes retroactively great at the end of the film for reasons I won’t spoil here. Danila Koslovsky as Akan meanwhile is a lot of fun. He’s very slimy and intimidating, mainly because of his telekinetic powers, which makes him a really great villain for this type of film. Sure there’s absolutely no dimension to the character, he’s just evil for the sake of being evil, but he is a lot of fun to watch as a result.
On a technical level, the film is an absolute marvel because of the first person perspective. Whilst there is the potential for some members of the audience to get motion sickness as a result of the shaking, the perspective provides a lot of really interesting opportunities for action, putting you into the action to a greater level. Some great work is also done playing with the first person perspective to create some great plot elements, letting you know that the film could not have been made in anything other than first person. The film also uses the perspective to make a lot of the stunts feel more impactful, aided by the brilliant stunt work, which probably was more difficult due to the need to hide the camera. The action itself in the film is brilliantly directed, never feeling disorientating unless it wants you to feel so. The choreography in all of the scenes is excellent, with there being great use of music and the surroundings to make the action all the more engaging, the highlights of this being a car chase and an attack by Akan’s forces later on in the film. It also has to be said that the film is extremely violent, more than earning the 18 rating. There are so many insane acts of violence in the film that you can’t help but vocalise your reactions, particularly any scene revolving explosions, eyes and chests needing to be ripped open, it’s completely sickening, but works for the tone of the film.
Overall, whilst it’s not for everyone, I had a blast watching Hardcore Henry. The video game like structure, the insane action scenes and the skill needed for the whole first person style of the film is incredibly engaging to watch which, along with the very engaging plot (albeit one with some elements that could have been explored better and where some characters could have been developed more) that takes advantage of the first person perspective, makes this one of the most entertaining experiences I’ve had watching a film. I hope that I’m able to experience seeing the film with a full audience that are into the film in the future as this has cult classic painted all over it.
My Rating: 4.5/5