Verdict: “Henry” falls short of first person shooter adrenaline, while maintaining its dude-centric guy-sthetic. The result is an occasionally fun film that’s mostly monotonous.
There’s a moment in “Hardcore Henry” when sidekick Jimmy finds reason to claim that ethics don’t matter if you’re a rich guy who’s getting laid. He’s a little bit mocking, and uses more colorful language than I’m allowed to quote here, but nonetheless he sums up this movie’s entire ideology: you’re cool if you’re a dude who kicks ass. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movie doesn’t.
“Hardcore Henry” is about you, waking up on a science blimp after a near death experience. A hot science chick (Haley Bennett) screws on your new bionic limbs. She claims to be your wife, tells you you’re super powerful and cool. She then gets kidnapped by evil Akan, Danila Kozlovsky playing his best albino, telekinetic Javier Bardem circa “Skyfall.” In the process, you hit up a fancy strip club and kill a bunch of dudes.
Sounds like a teen boy’s wet dream, right? It’s an ultraviolent, excessively macho and grossly misogynistic first-person shooter, but lamer since all you’re doing is watching it happen.
First, the ultraviolence: disappointing.There are some good moments, flamethrowers and heads exploding right in front you as you wreak havoc in the streets of Moscow. Plus the film tries to keep a hectic pace by stuffing every moment with a new dude to pummel. All this stuff gets tiring, though. In the second act, I struggled to pay attention as my brain overloaded with bloodsplatter and the crunch of bones breaking.
Part of the problem is Henry, who’s good at killing people but isn’t a fun killer. He lacks finesse. He kicks and punches and shoots as bad guys come at him, which might be logical but isn’t interesting. I started craving some epic choreography, and wanting the kind of awesome slaughter that makes you peek through your fingers and giggle. There’s some of that in spurts, specifically in an adrenaline-fueled killing spree set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and those moments powered me through the rest of the film’s monotonous shoot-shoot-stabs.
Further alienating is “Henry”’s relationship with women. Shameless misogyny is the norm to appeal to as many agitated teenage boys as possible. I understand I’m not supposed to get touchy about casual misogyny that is geared towards men and I shouldn’t overanalyze it (cough). However, they don’t make it easy to ignore. Every female character, including the supposedly badass ninja chicks in leather, is naked, annoying or two-faced. Try harder, action flicks.
How it deals with gaming tropes is an area of some interest, in that it plays exactly like a videogame. All the writing is game talk too, with a few tutorials thrown in as you go along. That’s all cute or whatever, but aside from one funny scene involving a horse, none of it made the movie worthwhile. There’s no commentary here, it’s got nothing to say about gaming or game violence. It just is a videogame, one in which the viewer doesn’t have any control, which gets old quickly.
As much as “Hardcore Henry” emulates a first person shooter, it can never engage like a videogame can. So unless you love mediocre male fantasies and/or watching endless game playthroughs online, sit this one out. You’ll get a heavier adrenaline dose from a Monster and a few hours with a controller in your hands.