Strap in. Hardcore Henry is one of the most unflinchingly original wild-rides to hit the big screen in a long time: You remember nothing. Mainly because you've just been brought back from the dead by your wife (Haley Bennett). She tells you that your name is Henry. Five minutes later, you are being shot at, your wife has been kidnapped, and you should probably go get her back. Who's got her? His name's Akan (Danila Kozlovsky); he's a powerful warlord with an army of mercenaries, and a plan for world domination. You're also in an unfamiliar city of Moscow, and everyone wants you dead. Everyone except for a mysterious British fellow called Jimmy (Sharlto Copley). He may be on your side, but you aren't sure. If you can survive the insanity, and solve the mystery, you might just discover your purpose and the truth behind your identity. Good luck, Henry. You're likely going to need it...
Video game movies. Do they ever work or become profitable? Every few years we get a video game property that tries to break into main stream cinemas (‘Silent Hill,’ ‘Doom,’ ‘Warcraft’); and they have usually failed, quite frankly falling flat on their face for the most part. It always comes across as exploitation of the game franchises that it is trying to emulate. So can a video game movie work if it isn't based on an established video game property?
‘Hardcore Henry’ is most definitely aiming to emulate the first person perspective that many video games use, by strapping a souped up GoPro to a stunt man’s head; this gives you the viewpoint of Henry, but that isn't where the idea originated. Knowing how much Russia loves their GoPro’s, this was actually based on a series of music videos by a Russian band named ‘Biting Elbows’ that the director (Ilya Naishuller) is in. The music videos were made to seem like an almost continuous shot of mayhem and violence.
To give some perspective on how violent the videos were, anything in the world is used as a weapon, and at one point, an attack dog is literally thrown out of a window in self-defense. As you can tell, these videos don't care about political correctness or pleasing the masses, and neither does this movie. This is a movie whose sole concern is giving us video game style carnage and mayhem.
The plot is simple. You are Henry. Henry wakes up in Russia battered, broken beyond repair, and unable to remember who he is. There is a woman who claims to be Henry's wife named Estelle (Hayley Bennett) that has rebuilt his body with mechanical limbs, making him half man half machine (a’ la ‘Robocop’). Henry doesn't get a whole lot of time to process this until a mercenary group led by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) invades the lab.
Henry and Estelle escape the lab, but the mercenaries quickly catch up, and Henry quickly realizes that he has a new found ability to beat enemies to a bloody pulp. However, Estelle is captured. Furious and desperate, Henry is hell bent on getting Estelle back; he has no choice but to trust a man that curiously understands everything Henry is going through who goes by the name of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley). Together with Jimmy, Henry must shoot, blow up, and kick anyone's ass that is in the way.
As you can tell, there isn't a lot to this film other than kicking ass and…. not being so worried about taking names. This would be detrimental to any other film, but this is ‘Hardcore Henry’ and Henry doesn't slow down. This film moves at such a frenetic pace that you feel like a plot would just slow down the roller coaster of carnage we’re on, and who wants that? A variety of camera tricks contributed to the unique look of this film: shot entirely in first person perspective, with what is meant to seem like long continuous shots. There is also absolutely amazing and ‘Hardcore’ stunt work; the kind of stunt work that we hear usually breaks bones, and we see it throughout the majority of the film.
I do feel like this movie should come with a warning that says “Caution: May cause disorientation and dizziness” because let’s just say, I felt more than a little disoriented by many of these action scenes. Maybe I am not as ‘Hardcore’ as ‘Hardcore Henry’ is, but because of this first person POV, the disorientation I was feeling was taking me out of the action, which is a shame because in every other aspect, this is damn good action. This led me to look forward to scenes with Sarlto Copley so much more if only because of the pause in action and the awesome, off the walls performance from Copley. His is the only stand out performance here, and since everything else is in the jarring first person POV, he is the character we actually see the most. This is a stand out performance by Copley and my favorite of his so far.
Look, ‘Hardcore Henry’ is insane, and anyone who doesn't like insanity on screen will not like this movie. It is made for a Red Bull ADD generation that loves video games. But as an avid gamer myself, I felt the constant first person POV was extremely disorienting, which is a problem since I have never felt that way throughout all of my history of gaming. There is also a small amount of CG problems that seem to be budgetary issues. Overall, I did see past my disorientated haze and enjoyed myself with this film due to great action and a game changing performance by Copley.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Hardcore Henry’ comes in a three dimensional slip cover with a BD 50 Blu-ray inside. Along with that is a DVD copy of the film and an Ultraviolet portable downloadable version. When you pop in the Blu-ray there are skipable theatrical trailers that lead to a still image main menue with music in the background.
‘Hardcore Henry’ locks and loads its way onto Blu-ray with a 1080P MPEG-4 encode that feels a bit crippled by the way they chose to film it. Framed at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this movie was filmed entirely on GoPro cameras with special rigs to keep the camera firmly on the stuntmen’s heads. But there are certain drawbacks to filming with unorthodox cameras.
This is not the sharpest movie to hit home theaters. Anyone expecting sharp edges, deep and rich colors, and clean white and black levels will be sorely disappointed. The GoPro camera gives this entire movie a soft presentation throughout, and this is noticeable from frame one. The whole color palette has been intentionally muted to give a grittier feel, but that also means that no colors pop out at you at any point in time. Then we have those pesky white and black levels I usually ding most transfers for. In the whiter scenes like in the lab, white levels are a problem and hold some unwanted film grain and noise.
I want to make it clear that the problems with the CGI and the nauseating camera movements are problems that are expected to be inherent with a film with a meager $2 million budget, and does not reflect on my overall score of the video transfer. With that being said, there still are some problems that come mainly from shooting on a GoPro here. This transfer isn't all bad, but the bar has been set so high for Blu-ray transfers that this isn't a transfer that will impress anybody.
With a flying drop kick onto a motorcycle, ‘Hardcore Henry’ comes to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA track that is more along the lines of what I would want from a movie that wants to kick this much ass. This is the greatest thing about audio tracks. You are only limited by your imagination; budget doesn't play much of a factor.
Fronts and surrounds are strong and pack a punch like we want them to, but more importantly, they are surprisingly dynamic. Being a movie with a first person POV, this leaves a great opportunity for multiple actions coming from multiple directions. After all, who wants to shoot one gun at a time? We want to dual wield baby! And we get that in this movie. This leads to multiple guns and enemies firing at and hitting targets all throughout the sound field.
If that wasn't enough, the LFE track feels robust and ready to kick some ass. Bass levels are deep and make you feel every bone crushing blow that you and Henry take in this movie. This track proves that with a passion for the art of audio recording, your options are limitless, and I love this track for that. If we would have only gotten a Dolby Atmos or a DTS X track, I would have given this a perfect score. As it stands this is still a track that is sure to rock your house.
Commentary with Director Ilya Naishuller – A great commentary that is refreshingly different. Ilya isn't a traditional director and comes through with a laid back, natural commentary that is still informative. Highlights include him talking about getting into a fight with a Russian cop during the scene where Estelle gets captured on the bridge, and the fact that the guy we see getting his nose pinched by the pliers in the apartment building is actually a popular Russian rock star.
Commentary with Sharlto Copley - This is the more fun commentary. Regardless of what you think of Copley’s acting, he is a joy to listen to because of how passionate he is about his projects, and this one is no different. When he talks about how amazed he was at all the stunts, and his off the wall performance in such a gleeful way, it is hard not to feel that same energy.
Deleted Scenes (7:57 HD) - Five deleted scenes that are primarily more action. If you like the action in this film, you will definitely appreciate the extended parking garage scene.
Fan Chat (12:25 HD) – A Q&A with Naishuller and Copley where they talk about how safe the set actually was, the special ‘GoPro’ rigs they made, and how Copley actually came to be involved with the project.
If you love yelling things like “Awesome!” and "bad ass!” then you will love ‘Hardcore Henry’. This is a movie that rewards the viewer for knowing the most about the video games it is aiming to emulate. As an avid gamer the mix of first person gunplay and parkour is reminiscent of a cross between Grand Theft Auto meets Mirrors Edge, and that is a good thing. I just wish this film had a bit more of a budget and a first person POV that isn't as disorientating. But at the end of the day, I can't deny that the action and the long continuous shots are impressive, and worth seeing. In the end, I wound up admiring this film as a technical wonder.