While I’m a great fan of the British tv-comedy Peep Show, I’ve never been overly enthusiastic about its format. It took quite a few episodes before I could overlook the perspective filming, the constant staring into the camera from the actors, and the sometimes awkward and nauseating camera movements. Hardcore Henry is basically the last few minutes of the film Doom (2005) as a whole movie. I wasn’t convinced I could avoid throwing up, but the trailer did get me into the theater because this one I had to see.
Henry wakes up in a laboratory, with a woman attaching artificial limbs to him. Estelle is her name, and she is Henry’s husband. With no memory, Henry is left to trust in those around him while he tries to escape the evil clutches of Akan, a deliberately cartoonish villain with unexplained telekinetic powers. Henry has some help from a guy named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley from District 9 (2009), who I can’t really explain without spoiling anything. But he’s pretty entertaining, and his plot-line could probably have been expanded to form a whole movie on its own.
Hardcore Henry is a videogame as a movie, but it is not, as far as I know, a videogame adaptation. Instead of adapting the story of a videogame to fit the screen (which let’s face it almost never, ever, ever works) the film takes videogame tropes and plot devices and creates a first-person shooter without us, the audience, as the actual shooter. The opening scene is typical: Henry wakes up as the literal silent protagonist (a by-now overused gimmick from games that is suppose to boost immersion). There’s a scientist to explain things vaguely so as not to give away too much plot. And there is even a “squeeze now”/ “press A” bit when Henry learns how to use his arm. The rest of the film includes missions of all kinds from games: chasing, sniper opportunities, firefights, the dreaded escort mission and the boss fight at the end, all divided by cut-scenes.
This is all very interesting, and I applaud the attempt. I would never have thought a film could flow as well as it did with so much in common with a game. Editing was used instead of instant-travel, but other than that the whole thing felt like a speed-run on a worth-the-price game. But is that what you want from a film? Does this kind of film limit its audience to gamers, or is it possible it brings new people into it? It’s a bit early to tell how well it’s done, but I’d be interested in hearing from complete non-gamers who have seen it.
The gamemovie is without a doubt one of the most violent films I’ve seen in a while (Sorry, Deadpool, but that R rating looks a bit pale from over here). The action is chaotic, fast, brutal, and most importantly in your face. I was surprisingly never in danger from motion sickness. The trick might lie in staring directly ahead and not to look around the screen as you would in a normal film. The action will come at you at breakneck speed, so don’t try and catch details outside Henry’s line of sight. The violence is, I should probably be a little ashamed to admit it, hilarious and well executed. Whenever I thought I might get tired of the endless death, the film managed to find a new way to kill a man.
After the film I kept asking myself why I had been so entertained. Was it the same feeling as a perfectly timed combo in a game? No, I don’t think so. For all its similarities, Hardcore Henry is still a film, and my entertainment was experienced in a “filmic” way. It lacked that extra satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment from a good kill in, say, Assassin’s Creed. So, despite its gimmick, the film did not actually give me anything more than a really good action movie. But without that gimmick, I’m almost certain it would be a fairly forgettable movie, so I’m not sure where I land on the perspective-filming as a concept question.
One more thing the film shares with many games: a weak plot. In fact, I’d say it’s a lot weaker than most games. The villain is so cartoonish, the plot so weak and at the same time convoluted. There are heaps of funny moments, even from the script when it’s not being too cringey for its own good, and there’s some fun acting. Tim Roth shows up in one scene, and that was a very good little scene. In the end, however, I was left with too many questions, and it dragged down my enjoyment a little.
If you like violent videogames and/or violent movies, this one is definitely on your must-watch list. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s an interesting concept to see made into a full-length film. I’m not betting on a sequel, however.