I’ve made this site a shrine to my various geeky interests. Movies, Comics, Books, and TV. I could talk about music, another love of mine, but I don’t really like writing about music, and it’s not exactly in the geek world. But there’s one topic that feels like I should probably be writing about. Video games. They’re a pretty huge part of the geek world, but I honestly don’t care much about them. I play video games, but I’m in no way a gamer. I’ve had a system ever since I was a kid playing with an original Playstation, and occasionally play stuff on my laptop, but it’s never been a big part of my life. I briefly dove into the community in highschool when my brother and I would play X-Box all the time and watch G4, but we didn’t really have a lot of money and couldn’t buy that many games, so I never kept up with the world. So it’s a part of the geek community that’s widely passed me by, but it would be ridiculous to say it wasn’t important. And becoming increasingly so. Big video games practically cost the same amount as blockbuster films to make, and more and more people are playing them. So it makes sense we were going to reach the point where filmmakers were going to come of age who have grown up more with videogames than film as their inspiration, and bring those influences into their films. We’ve had plenty of recent blockbusters that have been accused of just seeming like big video games before, but Hardcore Henry is the first movie I can’t think of that’s so embraced the idea, and basically just created a cinematic equivalent of a video game. Even going so far as to making the movie entirely shot in first person, becoming a first-person shooter film.
And it sucked. This movie was so bad. I didn’t have the highest of hopes for this thing, since it seemed like a feature-length gimmick that could get worn out quickly. But what I didn’t realize was that the stupid first-person gimmick of the movie wasn’t going to be the thing that most repulsed me by this movie. It was basically everything else. The cinematography was the least of my worries. Now, when I talk about movies on this site I usually do an in depth explanation of the plot, and talk about my feelings and reactions to the story beats, but that’s going to be really hard in this one, because there’s barely a plot in this movie. But I’ll do my best. The movie follows Henry, a man who wakes up in the beginning of the film with no memory and some missing limbs. He’s been woken up and given robotic limbs by a woman named Estelle (Haley Bennett, who I only know as a weird Brittany Spears parody from the movie Music and Lyrics) who claims to be his wife. She gets Henry all set up with his cyborg limbs, but right before getting his vocal system online the lab is attacked by the villain of the movie, a weird Russian, telekinetic vampire looking guy called Akan. He bursts in, kills a lot of technicians, and attacks Henry and Estelle, who run off, trying to escape. And it turns out the lab is in some sort of blimp, because there’s no ethics laws in the sky!
Henry and Estelle crash into some bleak Russian city, Akan’s goons kidnap her, and the nonstop, monotonous action scenes begin. Henry starts shooting a bunch of faceless Russian soldiers as he’s introduced the what may be the worst part of the movie, Jimmy. Jimmy is a character played by Sharlto Copley, and we later find out is actual a collection of robotic duplicates that are controlled by a sort of master Jimmy from a secret base. And all that means is Copley gets to be like twenty different obnoxious characters that all get to die gruesome deaths while randomly showing up doing their best to tell Henry where to go and what the hell is going on. It’s like Copley tried to pull a Peter Sellers and be as many half-assed caricatures as he could. But at least the stupid scenes where he shows up to tell Henry where to go an who to kill briefly give us a break from the relentless, badly shot action set pieces. Which basically make up the majority of the movie. It’s just Henry running from one place to the other, shooting a bunch of Russian guys with no lines, while remaining completely silent and having no personality. He basically just runs around several bleak Russian settings while trying to find MacGuffin after MacGuffin in order to find Akan and Estelle. And after going through a brothel, a highway chase, and a tank battle in a forest, Henry makes it to Jimmy’s secret base. Turns out Jimmy is a paralyzed genius who worked for Akan developing the crazy cyborg stuff in order to create an army of mindless cyborgs.
But Akan finds them and swarms the base with more of his army of Russian goons. They kill them all, while also getting rid of a bunch of terrible Jimmy’s, before driving off to Akan’s skyscraper. There’s some more killing, Jimmy dies, and they get to Akan’s office. Where we start learning about the obvious twists. Turns out Estelle isn’t Henry’s wife, and the whole movie was some elaborate training montage. Estelle is actually with Akan, and they’re building an army of cyborg soldiers, using Henry’s experiences as training. Turns out fighting for your wife is good motivation for a murder robot. But their mistake was telling the murder robot that they were screwing him over. So he goes on another rampage, punches a bunch of Russians to death, kills Akan, and hops on a helicopter with Estelle. And the movie ends with Henry gleefully killing Estelle, the woman he loved for the whole movie. Because if there’s one thing hardcore gamers enjoy, it’s hating women!
This movie was a nightmare. I’ve been hearing about it for a couple of years now, since the whole idea of the first first-person action movie was something to talk about. For a while I was seeing this referred to as the first time there’s ever been a first-person movie, but that’s totally not true since in 1947 there was an adaptation of a Phillip Marlowe novel called Lady in the Lake that was shot first person. That movie was pretty terrible too, but it basically voided any claims of cinematic firsts. Although they did briefly reference it by having a stoner whose apartment Henry runs through have a Lady in the Lake poster hung up in his room. That was neat. But I decided to check this movie out to see the technological advances it featured. Having a whole movie filmed with those little Go-Pro cameras could be an interesting development in film, kind of like how I checked out Tangerine to see how using iPhones to film a movie turned out. But that movie turned out good, and actually used the new technology well. But I’ll be the first to admit that the first-person aspect of the movie was far from the biggest problem with this flick. Yeah, it got a little ridiculous, and triggered some motion-sickness, and yeah the movie looked ugly as hell with truly awful cinematography, since it wasn’t really artfully shot, but pretty much everything else in the movie was worse.
Now, I know there are video games with good stories. People can use the medium to great effect, really crafting fascinating and investing stories. I’m a particular fan of the games made by the company TellTale, which often put you in the shoes of characters, making choices for them while moving a story along. And aside from strategy games like Civilization, these are my favorite types. There’s not a lot of action, and it’s mainly just playable narrative. But then there’s what’s probably the most popular type of video game out there, first-person shooters. A genre that I have no interest in. They’re not exactly know for having good stories, and those that do, like the Bioshock series, would be infinitely better if the shooting aspects were removed, and they were just exploration games set in the world they created. Shooters don’t need plots. They’re just about the wanton violence. So of course, since this was basically the film version of a shooter, there was virtually no plot. It was just violence. Constant, boring violence. I don’t mind violence, if it’s done well, but this movie was just scene after scene of frankly boring kills. There was nothing mind-blowing about the movie. It was just a bunch of ugly scenes disjointedly held together by shitty Sharlto Copley appearances. The pacing of this movie was so horrible. I complained a lot about the pacing of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but Hardcore Henry made the story structure of that movie look like a damn Hitchcock film. It was relentless and exhausting. The entire movie was a climax. Which can work if done with craft and skill, like last year’s amazing Mad Max: Fury Road, but this movie was ugly, mean-spirited, and monotonous. I never once checked my watch in Mad Max. I was sucked into the action of that movie, flowing along with the beautifully structured film, but I was checking my watch just about every five minutes in this thing, because you lose all sense of time and proportion. It was just unending scenes of violence inter-cut with terrible attempts of levity with sophomoric, homophobic jokes.
The world of video games, and the people who play them religiously, is pretty foreign to me. I’ve never really been a part of it, and mostly just hear stories. And what I hear isn’t that positive. I don’t want to offend people who consider themselves gamers, and I know that I only hear about a particularly vocal minority, but most of my knowledge of that community comes from events like the Gamergate thing. Which as far as I can parse is a group of dudes who play video games and hate women because they have the audacity to play games too and have opinions while also having vaginas. And this movie seems to be right up their ally. It’s just a lot of dudes being “awesome” shooting the hell out of other guys while we see a lot of naked women running around being useless and called stupid. Copley’s various characters are constantly tossing out misogynistic and homophobic jokes, and I’m a little shocked they didn’t have him say something racist to get the hatred hat-trick. And honestly, this movie wasn’t meant for me. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m not into the gamer culture, and this movie was tailor made for people who are. It’s not for me. But if you’re going to make a majorly released movie, I feel like it was fascinatingly bad decision to make it this unpleasant and terrible. It was just so ugly and poorly made. I feel like a first-person action movie has some potential, but not if it’s like this. Every set was was darkly lit and ugly, just a lot of gray and beige, like a video game. The acting is over the top and ridiculous, the sets are horrible, and the action is stilted and boring. Like a video game. But it didn’t have to be like this! If the director was trying to make this movie like a video game, with all the problems inherent to the genre, then the succeeded, but I can’t imagine why he would want to do that. Honestly, the biggest feeling I had coming out of this movie was that I’m old. I’m only 26, but this movie really had me shaking my head and thinking things like “the kids today…” I’m not in touch with the young people of today, and who knows, maybe the current generation of high-schoolers will find this movie amazing. But to me it was a shoddy mess of a movie that was hard to follow and aggravating. Maybe the times have passed me by already. I’m always up to try new things, and try to expand my horizon, but if this is the type of movies that the generation of today are going to be into, I’ll be staying the hell away from the theaters.
Hardcore Henry was written and directed by Ilya Naishuller and released by STX Entertainment, 2016.
Categories: Reel Talk