“It is our duty to ensure no harm comes to the cripple.”
There are two types of people in the world. The first saw the trailer for Hardcore Henry and knew straight away that it wasn’t for them and they wouldn’t bother watching it. The second, like me, saw the trailer and instantly saw flashes of the awesomeness of films like Crank and Shoot ’em Up and wanted more of that, please.
If you don’t know which group you are in, watch the trailer below and come back. It’s just one of those films that there’s no real sense of “ehh, maybe” to it. You will know whether or not you’re watching this film at the end of that two minutes. If you fall into that first group, there’s nothing for you here. There’d be no point in watching Hardcore Henry – nor would I try to convince you. For the second group, read on.
Shot entirely from a first-person perspective, we are Hardcore Henry; a man with almost no memory of who he is after he wakes up in a high-tech bath missing a leg and half of his arm. But fear not, the people that dropped him into the bath have prepared some robo-replacements for his missing appendages and quickly screw them into his stumps. Henry and his wife (Haley Bennett), the doctor who kept him alive/gave him a shiny new left arm, are quickly attacked by psychopathic warlord wannabe Akan (Russian Unknown Danila Kozlovsky) and are forced to get creative to get away. Narrowly escaping with their lives, Henry loses sight of his betrothed for a split second allowing her to be stuffed into the back of a van and taken away.
Rescued from a gunfight he is sure to lose by crazy Brit Jimmy (the always magnificent Sharlto Copely), Henry finds himself with a partner in his soon-to-be very bloody mission to rescue his wife and stop his insane nemesis from raising a cyborg army and destroying the world.
So now, only that second group, those that were going to watch this either way, is still with me and I want to split them into two more little groups for the purpose of this review. The first group will know exactly what I mean when I say the words “All Ghillied Up“; and the second will raise an eyebrow wondering what the fuck I am talking about.
A review for the second group first, I reckon. Hardcore Henry is an hour and a half adrenaline-fuelled insanity that – assuming you can manage the running time without feeling dizzy and nauseated – will overload your senses with enough high octane action to satisfy even the most thirsty 80’s action junky.
Filmed like someone sellotaped a Go Pro camera on to the face of Crank’s Chev Chelios and set him lose in the middle of Russia, Hardcore Henry‘s point-of-view style could certainly seem pretty jarring and more than a little headache inducing. But stick with it and what you get is an explosive 95 minutes of extreme violence as our silent protagonist cuts a bloody trail through cities, armies, and at one point bits of himself that will leave you feeling battered by the time the credits roll.
Sadly, I fall into the former. The Call of Duty loving crowd. And as part of that crowd, Hardcore Henry is an insulting slap in the face to a hobby that I have loved for as long as I’ve loved watching films. On the surface, this film looks like it’s paying homage to those games and respect to those of us that love them; but scratch the surface just a little bit and you’ll find a film that isn’t really trying to make friends with gamers, it is mocking them.
From the opening shots, the movie basically steals its main character from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (or Black Ops 3 – whichever you prefer) as our amputated hero gets himself some bionic body parts and cracks on cracking skulls. Within a couple of minutes, after the obligatory walk around tutorial, we get a high speed airdrop – a la Advanced Warfare or Crysis 2 – and a high action gunfight with a just-in-time rescue that is typical of pretty much every modern shooter.
We are treated to ripped scenes and – for want of a better term – mechanics from dozens of popular video games without a moments thought that we might spot it. Far Cry‘s healing mechanic of snapping bones in your hand back in place may be one of the most ludicrous; but I can almost forgive the trope of an almost unlimited supply of ammunition in every gun Henry gets his hand on.
One of the more obvious and flagrant moments sees the red and white aesthetic from cult-favourite Mirror’s Edge copy/pasted into a large chunk of the film. Not to mention the obvious parkour style the game is famous for. It’s a jarring early moment that those that don’t know the game wouldn’t know, but those of us that have even a passing acquaintance with it can’t not see. On-rails turret sections and car chases that are only missing the QuickTime events just add insult to the injury.
But the most heinous crime this film has perpetrated against us gamers goes back to that phrase I mentioned earlier. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, “All Ghillied Up” is a mission from the critically acclaimed, near legendary Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and is widely regarded as one of the greatest missions ever put to disc. The mission sees you and your commanding officer sneaking through the woods and fields of Chernobyl in a ghillie suit (a camouflage suit designed to look like you’re covered in foliage, essentially you’re a giant walking bush). You navigate through a half demolished building to get a good vantage point for a sniper shot, things happen, and you’re forced to run for your life carrying an injured man that can’t walk or run for himself. All of this, and more – including the obligatory timed “defend the thingy” mission ripped from the game’s storyboards and implanted here – just leaves you cold and angry.
I’d be ok with all of these if there was some hint that it was first time director Ilya Naishuller (a man with a WRITING CREDIT for multiplayer only video game Payday 2 – a red flag if ever there was one) or one time favourite producer of mine Timur Bekmambetov (Director of Nightwatch and Wanted) had made some form of effort to show me they were trying to honour and respect these games that so many of us have played. Anything would have done, a quick interview with them, an article covering their love of games, anything. But without that it feels like all these parts have been lifted from one of my favourite hobbies and they just hope no one will notice.
The film isn’t particularly subtle in its disdain for gamers, or the games it’s ripping off. Every time one of these scenes flashes across the screen without care or thought for its bastardised source material you can feel the ambiguity towards us felt by the director. The theft is so blatant, in fact, that it is obvious those behind the camera haven’t been able to see past the antiquated view of game players from early nineties nerdy sitcoms. A view that lends people the chance to think we all still live in our parent’s basements never letting go of the controller; and there’s just no way that one of us would venture far enough away from our internet connections to see this film or have the energy to be angry about what we just saw if we did.
Sure, there are still a few of us around like that, but to pigeon hole an entire community and think none of us would notice the frame-for-frame copy of some of these games is more than just staggeringly narrow minded and amazingly stupid. It’s an insult to the intelligence of a large portion of your audience. Furthermore, to mask your lack of creativity and originality by stealing these scenes, pretending like it’s some kind of homage and calling them your own insults more than just gamers, it slaps the face of every person that lays down money for your product.
On paper, Hardcore Henry looks to be a fun waste of an hour and a half. It should be Action Film – The Game: The Movie. What should have been a perfect splatter filled distraction for my Saturday evening, was instead an unwanted lesson in just how much a film can piss me off. Do yourself a favour and skip this one, you’ll get a much more satisfying time booting up your favourite Call of Duty game and sticking Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer on the TV.