Hardcore Henry has had the biggest critical downfall I have ever seen - and that's saying something. It currently holds 51% on Rotten Tomatoes (although that could go down given that we're only a week after release), but just over a week ago it was at 89% and I'm pretty sure at one point it was well over 90... Here's the story:
|Well, erm, this is getting us off to a flying start.|
And whadayaknowit, Russian CGI overusing producer/director Timur Bekmambetov gave Naishuller a buzz about turning his lil' viral hit into a real big movie. The tale told by the director goes that he initially didn't want to, but then Bekmambetov asked if 'he wanted to see a great pov film in a theater'. Naturally the response was yes - "well go make it then". So began the quest to create "Hardcore", which ran headlong into pre-production without a story or a script. Some footage later, and the well known Kickstarter/Indiegogo pages for the funding of the project took hold. This is where I first found out about it. Sharlto Copley was also on board - so there was a guaranteed 'star' (at least in the cult fandom world) presence. Knowing the internet, 'Hardcore' was the sort of film that was funded instantly - and that was that.
|An awesome fight scene in motion!|
Then, peculiarly, it was announced the film was premiering at Toronto International Film Festival. Completely unexpectedly, the screening was reported to be an absolute riot filled with laughter, shocked gasping, and a general sense of amazement. here is where all those amazing trailer quotes originate from, and most of the favorable reviews. One negative review - the Guardian's - was perhaps the only that I can think of. In interviews, the focus was on congratulating Naishuller on an impeccable film; and the man himself was rather taken with his own effort. Together with Copley and the magazine correspondents, they set Hardcore up to be the hit of the year, nah, fuck that, the hit of the decade. It was an unbelievable success story against all of the odds - but, like an eager horse at the Grand National, it had broke into it's sprint too early for it's own good.
|Immersive is the right word...|
|'Protect the cripple'. Yes that is a quote.|
|The opening escape...|
So so far, so cool. Then the 'story', as you probably already know it, begins. You, yes you, awake in a lab to be confronted by your wife (who is doing her best Jennifer Lawrence impression (I kid ( but, seriously - Hayley Bennett is discount Jennifer Lawrence))). You can't speak or do emotions, so it's up to the audience to project their own selves into the character. Yes, I know this is a direct lift from videogames, but it's pretty neat in a film form. One thing I'm gonna mention here is that the footage is more than a little grubby - Gopros are good for viral videos, but not A-OK for wide release blockbusters. Goddammit STX Entertainment.
|So, erm, is this movie violent?|
|A very nice piece of framing in POV.|
|Oh hai Mark....|
Here we have a fun, campy, action throwback using some unique filmography (again, I'll get to that): but the fact is Hardcore Henry is nasty - very nasty. It's in the worst possible taste imaginable, and I don't say that lightly. FYI, a backstory comic poses that Akan is created by the Chernobyl explosion, and that he also caused it. The language is excessively and constantly vulgar, everyone save a few central characters are treated with severe contempt, and the sheer amount of cruel kills earns the movie it's name. Henry opens no less than three chests (including his own), explodes no less than two heads, and brutally executes everyone from civilians, to soldiers, to policemen. As an example, at one point Henry bursts the balls of a policeman with his super-strong arm whilst simultaneously ramming his own baton down his throat. That's far from an isolated incident however. The final 10 minutes of the film, mostly set to 'Don't Stop Me Now' by Queen absolutely apes most fight scenes out there for brutality - including such staples as the Kingsman Church scene. I believe IMDB has it down as 'ending sequence could be considered offensive', and one commentator on Indiewire simply called it 'awfully nasty'. So you really need to know what you're coming for before you see this movie, and you're not coming for morality. Because that's one of the attributes this movie lacks.
|You didn't think they called it 'Hardcore Henry' for a reason, huh?|
Many times in more favorable reviews, Naishuller has been called 'The Next Tarantino', and that's something I can really see. Whereas Tarantino would reference the 70s/80s movies of his childhood, Naishuller is content with referencing, well, Tarantino, as well as a large range of videogames. The credits evoke James Bond, Jimmy is a NPC, Sniper Jimmy is a direct lift from Modern Warfare, Tommy Jimmy is a direct lift from COD4, Nerd Jimmy is Wikus from District 9, the final fight is set up like the Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill, the horse scene is a tribute to the western, the boss kill is quite clearly a 'fatality' from Mortal Kombat, the uniform the bad guys wear is straight out of 'A Clockwork Orange, Henry does a lot of videogame behavioral things (see later paragraph), and there's a poster room filled with, I presume, Naishullers favorite references. I guess I'll just have to wait for the DVD release to pause the screen and see what I missed, but I got 'SUPERHOT', a Bill Hicks poster, Left4dead, and 'The Lady in the Lake'. These are the references that I picked out, but there could easily be more. There's even a very jammy reference to the Bad Motherfucker video - with the same bottle of vodka displayed in scene. Essentially, Hardcore Henry represents the zeitgeist of pop-culture through the eyes of the director.
|Wait a minute... you were in The Hole, in 3D!|
|Because a star cameo is always needed.|
The use of actual practical stunt and effect work also adds to the overall awe of the experience. Because you know, when you watch somebody jump off a building - the stuntman jumped off a friggin building! The slight fisheye curve of the Gopro lens emphasises the achievements - giving heights more gravitas for those who are prone to vertigo; and making characters who get right in your face more confrontational. A couple behind the scenes videos (currently there's a B-Roll and a music video for Ilya's band) go further to add more awe and showcase the hard work that went into the film. It's definitely a Mad Max style technical achievement that puts skill and brilliance above ease. Why oh why, then, is it apparently necessary to load the whole affair with bad CGI? The answer, of course, is that it's not necessary in the slightest. But the blimp, and an awful scene in the AKAN corporation lobby (fair enough that the director has explained why it looks so bad) just let the film down a tad. There are impressive special effects too: Akan has supernatural telekenesis powery things so is constantly making people hover like Darth Vader (another reference I presume), and these scenes are always very realistic so props to them....
|They is coming to get you bruv.|
Well, there's a very strong undercurrent of hate about how Hardcore Henry feels like a videogame. Naishuller has made a very conscious attempt in various interviews to say that this is a movie for cinemagoers. And there's something extra that gamers will get out of it - but it's not made for them. It's made as a unique, fun experience for people that love movies. I am not a gamer. I own a PC, it has Steam on it. I own an Xbox 360, and a Wii that hasn't been touched in 5 years (apart from House of the dead: overkill as that game is damn near perfect on a cinematic level). On average, I probably spend less than an hour every two weeks playing games unless an incredible wild card like SUPERHOT comes to the fore. So I play games occasionally, but probably not even once a week. And I loved the film. Whats videogamey about it? Well, it has the first-person perspective which I'm pretty sure can't be dismissed as a pure video-game rip off. Films got there first in 1947, and we see our lives from a first person perspective, so you can't go pin the whole idea on Call of Duty. Next: the criticism that watching Hardcore Henry is no more fun than watching somebody else play GTA in front of you, whilst you wait for your turn. Plainly false. Because, you see, when you go to someones house to play a game, you go to someone else's house to play a game. The wait to play the game, just watching the other person is boring and pained compared to the actual playing of it. Whereas, with Hardcore Henry, you've paid to specifically come and see an action movie with a story, and some awesome sequences. You have not come to play anything. I'm not denying that the gaming references are aplenty: there's a few left4dead throwbacks, some of the Jimmies are parodies of game characters (but more criticising them than celebrating them), in the violent final scenes, you inject adrenaline as a sort of power-up, and even climb floating bodies as a kind of platformer. The setups act a little bit like levels (there's even what I would hesitantly call a tutorial). But these are base general videogame homages rather than specific referencing. It's something that anyone involved in pop culture for the last couple decades can appreciate. Put it this way, as a movie lover who isn't a gamer, I loved it for its movie content.
|The only image on the web that kind of summarizes the opening credits...|
|The return of Wikus.|
And here we get to the final 'big problem' - that the film has 'no story'. OK, well here's your story: you awake in a lab, with your wife telling you that you've been in an accident. A crazy evil guy kidnaps her, so you go in search of her with the help of a mysterious shapeshifting man. As you go on your quest, you find out little details that lead to your identity, the identity of Jimmy, and Akans plan before building to a climax. There's a cohesive. Friggin. Story. Stop complaining about the lack of plot when there is a plot! I genuinely wanted to know who the hell Jimmy was, and then when I found out I wanted Henry to rescue his wife, and then at the end during the supercharged final battle, I wanted Akan to be defeated. I don't see anything wrong with that character arc, or the synopsis. Sure, it's story light - I'm not under any illusions. But it's sufficient, and that, by definition, is enough.
|An action sampler...|
And lastly, but not least,I feel like I should mention the incredible soundtrack. First, there's that marvelous usage of 'Let me Down Easy' (which makes complete tonal sense, and fits so well when you think about it after, in relation to that final 5 minutes). Naturally, the use of Queen in the most brutal fight scene as well is a bit of a masterstroke. But The Sonics, Leo Sayer, the Temptations, and Sublime all feature - not to mention Ilya's own outfit Biting Elbows. So it's a pretty fantastic affair on the musical front - using techno and punk for when it wants to be a bit more serious, but dropping some 70s/80s tracks for when it just wants to be a fun, goofy ride. Here, despite all the work put into other aspects of the film, Naishuller hasn't let the soundtrack tail off as a second thought - an admirable feat.
|Behind the scenes :O.|
I think I'm at the end of what turned out to be a very long review indeed.... It just goes to show how much there is to talk about with Hardcore Henry. No matter how much I loved it, I don't think I can quite give it 5 stars - the technical issues that Gopros presented, combined with the CGI overabundance (along with a few niggling concerns I mentioned earlier) just, and I mean JUST, took the top accolade away. If I did half stars, which I don't cause it's a cop out, it would be getting 4.5. Why? Because Hardcore Henry is probably the most fun you can legally have in a cinema. It's a tough, brutal, and incredibly bad taste exploitation movie wrapped up in a warm and cuddly 1980s throwback campfest. It's got vulgar language, vile violence, and Sharto Copely playing 10 characters or something... It's got an awesome soundtrack, and an incredible range of locations, ideas, and scenes. Take all that good stuff, then wrap it up into a unique cinematic concept, with the Russian Tommy Wiseau, and you have a surefire cult hit. It is truly, as Copley and Naishuller term it, an elaborate theme park ride (crossed with a rock concert if you see it in a rowdy cinema). You step on, have a really friggin good time, then step off again. And then you want to ride it again instantly afterwards. You know where I'll be this Weekend...
|Hardcore Henry gets 4 stars!|