Gamers who love CounterStrike or other similar First Person Shooter (FPS) games should watch this movie at least once, before reading this review.
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It might have been the late local journalist/author Dennis Bloodworth who once mentioned that an energetic pas de deux in ballet is where you cannot really tell if the characters are fighting or fornicating. Hardcore Henry is balletic indeed, but far less ambiguous in choreographic violence.
In fact, I believe that the graphic depiction of flying guts and blood was what prompted a local R21 rating, which makes little sense because it is so obviously animated in its tone. And 21 years ago, some film critic panned Mortal Kombat for its lack of plot and/or character development, and what both parties have in common, is that they are missing the point here. Much the same way this review by the Telegraph makes an epic show of confusing nearly all the selling points as flaws.
The director (I could write his full name here, but let’s face it, if you’re in the target audience, you wouldd probably not care, so I won’t wayang either) already achieved prior Internet fame through a similar concept video he made for his band, Biting Elbows. It’s a video that went viral far too many times. So much so that he have a clearly defined segment of the public wishing there was a full-length movie made of this.
The movie has been filmed in the point of view of the viewer. Everything shown on screen is as if the viewer is the one doing all the action.
The basic plot: Henry needs some supplies to survive on his escape from a Big Bad. He wakes up amnesiac on board a Lab Zeppelin, and he starts the fight barehanded, with not even a knife or crowbar in sight. The director keeps the frenetic action going, with very few breaks in between – and most of those are comedic relief from Sharlto Copley’s character Jimmy, who’s basically the NPC (non playable character) without a halo. Like Ravel’s Bolero, marked by a single continuous crescendo on the music score, the film’s intensity increases continuously. Except it already starts out being, loud instead of pianissimo. And so, it’s action all the way until the Big Bad is dealt with, and a little bit more besides.
That’s enough plot description. There is no need to overanalyse how the goons physically reference “The Matrix” or “A Clockwork Orange”, or literarily reference the homogenization of modern Russia’s security industry. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Like “Mad Max: Fury Road”, this is the sort of movie where you clearly leave your brains at the door, so stop acting like this movie needs more inspiration than its basic production premise. You’ve entered the map. You’ve re-assigned the keys, your right hand is on the mouse, and your left hand is clawed into AWSD position.
Just Press Start.
Given the premise, the film’s Story rating gets a 2 out of 10, and that is actually a compliment, because a film like this *needs* a low rating there.
As for the violence, it’s all there. The film’s opening sequence of multimodal red-hued slow-mo trauma practically fetishizes the violence in a way not seen since the satirical Sledge Hammer! was last seen adoring his gun on a silk pillow. But the delivery is clearly meant to be over-the-top, and it is certainly not the deliberately-nauseating sort found in Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible. As far as violence porn goes, this is less hardcore, more cheesecake.
As a delightful – and subtly tart – accompaniment to the smörgåsbord of violence, is this film’s ernest honesty. It does not pretend to have any moral message, and that makes it far more authentic than most mainstream films that try to, and then fail, to window-dress their cash cow with ethical platitudes or philosophical musings.
Pace-wise, this film is riveting. It is also intense, and perhaps too intense for me to watch a second time. It is a gallopping freakshow peppered with near-perfect choice of incidental music. Be forewarned, I enjoyed the musical cues more than most in that preview screening (being the sole awkward outburst of laughter the moment the theme from “The Magnificent Seven” started).
The downside to the pace, would be the camerawork. Yes, this entire film is a product placement for the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition, which is the tool used to film the movie. The shakycam is a tad too irritating. Never mind the disorienting tumbles, as anyone who plays rugby or has gotten into a serious fight, will recognise the action as being totally real. It will be the eyes that fail you, as while the human eye does have some stabilising ability, your vision doesn’t pan left and right when you shake your head, let alone when you run. This is probably why you won’t be watching this film more than once.
This is a novelty movie jam-packed with good bloody fun and filled with FPS visual tributes. That is its whole point. That is why you want to watch the movie. The content follows the form, not the other way around. Just be grateful for the numerous references (e.g. sidescroller tropes), subtitling humour, and the cameos from both Vader and Wilhelm.