Back in 1997, music group The Prodigy released another one of their hit singles “Smack My Bitch Up” to an eagerly awaiting general public. Though the track topped the charts in 15 different countries, much of the buzz happened to centre around the music video that accompanied it. A five-minute sensory bombardment of dizzying visuals and sound courtesy of a first-person perspective hedonistic night out on the town. The final scene of the video also stirred much controversy for the band, which ultimately, only seems to gift them a wider audience. With it’s over the top violence, nudity and drug-fuelled overtones, there was little wonder even MTV had trouble airing it on their channel (though not enough to stop the video from winning “Best Dance Video” and Breakthrough Video” at the 1998 MTV Awards show). So what if a film production house took that same innovative yet divided premise and worked it into a fully-fledged movie? Let’s delve a little deeper and find out.
The plot of Hardcore Henry is as inventive as the film’s unique angle. Henry is woken up in a laboratory aboard an airship by a mysterious woman. She introduces herself as Estelle (played by Haley Bennett) and explains that she had revived him from an accident which left him impaired with memory loss as well as unable to speak. She then proceeds to fit Henry with cybernetic prostheses limbs when the lab comes under attack. A group of soldiers, led by the psychokinetic villian Akan (played by Danila Kozlovsky), attempt to murder the couple in cold blood but they manage to outwit them via an escape pod. However, Estelle is captured when they land. On the brink the getting killed for a second time, Henry is saved again by yet another peculiar figure by the name of Jimmy (played by Sharlto Copley) who reveals further that Henry’s limbs are fast running out of power. Hence the scene is set for an against-the-clock all-out brutal action fest to discover what actually happened to him and ultimately save himself and his wife from the jaws of death.
To say this movie is “different” would be the understatement of the year. With the exception of a small section at the beginning and during the end, the entire movie is shot in the first-person. Anyone who has ever played an FPS (First Person Shooter) such as the Call of Duty series or Doom would feel right at home with this one. The at-best flimsy narrative setup provides for a movie experience literally like no other. The fast-paced cinematography produces an almost non-stop “killing spree” epidemic from start to finish, as there is also no let up on the violence or nudity. It’s as “in-your-face” as you can get which I understand may be a turn off for some. But if you know what to expect going in (which I definitely did) then there is a lot of fun to be had from this flick. The frantic nature of Hardcore Henry just gathers momentum until a truly memorable finale where the producers seem to pull out all the stops to showcase how many different ways there are to dismember a human body. Though it’s so excessive and cartoonish in style that one can’t help but soon become desensitised to the on-screen gore and watch in utter bewilderment and awe at how they put together each scene, all complimented by a thumping bass soundtrack in the background. It’s a feat of technical wizardry at its finest, if nothing else.
It must come as no surprise that in terms of character development, there is almost “zero” to be had. So those looking for a movie imparting some precious moral message or huge sweeping story-line need look elsewhere. This is a balls-to-the-wall brainless actioner through and through, which ironically is not necessarily a bad thing if you “allow” yourself to get past that niggling detail and immerse yourself in the madness. In addition, a huge mention must go to Sharlto Copley who plays host to multiple characters personas as the film progresses. His wit and humour are hysterical as he appears as over-glorified versions of his unhinged alter egos. Again, zany and extreme. But that was the intention of the movie right from the outset. Hardcore Henry makes no qualms about that. Otherwise performances from the rest of the cast are very generic and forgettable. But, once again, Oscar-winning drama is not what this movie is aiming for.
I was impressed by Hardcore Henry. It entertained by enveloping me in a world I had not bore witness to before. I’ve long been a gamer too, so was even more enthralled by the familiar video-game elements thrown in for good measure. So, if you manage to switch off your brain and let your “wild child” out for about an hour and a half, this could prove to be right up your street. But at the same time, I understand full well this is a “niche” movie. If this style of dizzying documentary-type visuals give you a headache or extreme, albeit dark humoured, violence and nudity don’t do it for you, please avoid. But I, for one, thought it was pretty... damn... cool.