Hardcore Henry Review: The Best FPS of the Year

Hardcore Henry is what would happen if you mixed Call of Duty, Mirror’s Edge, and District 9  altogether into a 90 minute action movie.

The result is a a completely over the top, relentless, and very R-rated flick shot from the unique first person perspective of the titular hero, Henry. For most gamers this view on action is a standard affair, but as a feature length film, Hardcore Henry is truly the first of its kind.

The film tasks Henry, an ever-silent man low on memories and high on rage, with saving his wife and discovering the truth behind his blurry past. Along the way he unites with the mysterious Jimmy (played by District 9’s Sharlto Copley) who claims to know how track down his wife’s kidnapper Akan, who is essentially a cross between Tommy Wiseau and Psycho Mantis from Metal Gear Solid. Terrifying, right?

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“Oh hi, Henry! I kidnap your wife ahaha!”

While it never outright calls itself a movie for gamers, it’s hard to deny that the movie will resonate most with fans of first person, action video games. Fortunately, catering to that audience is what Hardcore Henry does best, supplying the explosive, gun-heavy action one might find in a COD or Battlefield campaign on the big screen. The film never takes itself too seriously, which is good because it doesn’t need to: the plot isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s sufficient in getting Henry from action sequence A to action sequence B.

For the first twenty minutes I was completely sold. The novelty of the camera tilting up and down when Henry is asked a yes or no question was great and felt right out of a game tutorial. But unfortunately, my worst fear for this movie soon came true: I was struck by very minor (although still not fun) motion sickness. I chalk this up to sitting in the third row of the theatre and being on the far left, so you’ll probably still be okay if you watch it farther back and in the centre of the theatre.

Hardcore Henry‘s action will excite most viewers, and the single-shot nature of these epic set pieces certainly deserves praise. However, these action sequences are relentless and rarely give the movie or its characters time to breath. I remember a motorcycle / highway action sequence around the midpoint of the movie that followed a big indoor shootout scene, and being too fatigued from the prior scene to really care about what was happening. Maybe I’m just not hardcore enough and big action buffs will enjoy the non-stop nature, but when I watch movies I need time for them to breathe. Hardcore Henry is a full sprint from the start to the finish line.

One major downside of the first person perspective is that it never really lets the viewer see and sympathize with the main character. The first person perspective is, presumably, meant to make you the viewer at once connected with and embodying Henry, but it doesn’t quite succeed in immersing its audience: at the end of the day you’re still watching a movie – a movie with a faceless main character. This tasks Sharlto Copley, the actor who gets the most screen time by virtue of hanging out with Henry the most, with supplying the bulk of the movie’s humanity. Fortunately, the actor manages to pull this difficult feat off well. Copley’s Jimmy character is the heart and soul of the film, and is involved in a pretty compelling sci-fi subplot that really elevates the story.

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Mr. Copley you are a gem

While the movie is no doubt a cool experiment in unconventional cinematography, I wonder if a full feature length was really necessary. The action is great and gamers will get a huge kick out of it (the final fight is as hardcore as the movie’s title would suggest), but I wonder if they could have accomplished all of their goals in a condensed thirty minute experience, rather than a ninety minute one.

The filmmakers had an ambitious vision in adapting the video game experience to a feature film, but they misunderstood why players get so attached to these games: the immersion experienced doesn’t come from the first person perspective, but is acquired from the feeling of agency games offer by giving you control. Sure, you see the world of Hardcore Henry through the main character’s eyes, but you’re just along for the predetermined ride.

Film, an art where the consumer interacts only by viewing, is inherently incapable of replicating the sensation of agency that gaming can. It’s why Hardcore Henry is a cool one-and-done movie experience, but not quite an innovation in immersive storytelling.

Regardless, it’s still the best FPS of the year (until Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst comes out, that is).

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Final Thoughts

+FPS look is awesome, but sometimes blurry and may cause motion sickness +Sharlto Copley and Blonde Tommy Wiseau are great, but no one else is -Never succeeds in immersing the viewer -Didn't need to be 90 minutes long

Overall Score 3.5

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