“That’s so sweet that if I had a cup of tea, I wouldn’t need any sugar.”
Millennial gamers rejoice! The film best representing the “born after 1997” generation perfectly has finally arrived. HARDCORE HENRY premiered on April 8th, was written and directed by Illa Naishuller (PAYDAY 2, KNIGHTHOOD AND DECOY), and is designed to be a nonstop action experience shot entirely from the protagonist’s POV, allowing the audience to watch a first-person shooter adventure without having to commit to the effort of wrist and finger articulation. Let me also say how happy I am we finally get a POV film that is not just shoddy “recovered” footage from a video camcorder–I’m looking at you, CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. For me, this was the first successful cinematic POV attempt. However, if you’re not accustomed to the free-for-all view around the X, Y, and Z axis, this film can quickly demand a heavy helping of dramamine. Who knew the human head can whip around so much? This film is perfect for those of us raised on that oh-so-sweet dopamine rush chased after through an FPS campaign.
For this campaign, players (aka the audience) piggy-back with Henry as he relentlessly pursues a telekinetic albino to rescue his kidnapped wife. Immediately Henry learns the hard way of his ability to withstand a brutal beating, and a couple low-altitude impacts, thanks to his bionic super-augmentations. And super they are, Henry takes full advantage and fights his way against weapons of all calibers, some small armies, and a few helicopters too. During an intense stand-off, Henry is so completely surrounded it seemed like we finally knew how Neo felt when he took down the swarm of Agent Smiths.
Granted, there were a few sequences wherein the CGI effects were a more than obvious, and its also difficult to judge action stunts when you’re seeing them from the inside, but overall it did not leaving me saying “they should’ve done more.” It takes a few minutes to get used to the choppy style of editing; going along with Henry’s POV, in addition to experiencing his unconsciousness and frequent computer-brain static, occasionally the film will jump cut a number of frames ahead to avoid boring, unnecessary shots of walking or waiting periods in-between the exciting shots.
(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
Initial things I love about this film are its attention to the important elements of an engaging adventure: a relatable protagonist, a detestable antagonist, great action with cool weapons, a steady drip-feed of leveling challenges, and a sidekick who hooks you up with sweet upgrades while providing a brilliantly diverse dialogue. “Jimmy,” played by Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9, CHAPPIE), was my favorite part of the entire movie. Not only does he fulfill his role of a writer’s convenience–popping into almost every scene with new information to share–but he each time he re-enters, his character has shifted from one version of Jimmy to a completely different one, and we get to watch him die repeatedly in an array of creative and increasingly funny ways. It sounds confusing, but you sink into it quickly, and the big reveal of Copley’s role is showcased in a toe-tapping piece worthy of an off-broadway show.
Broadway musical? Yes, folks, and there’s even a classic “damsel in-distress” element, Estelle, played by Haley Bennett (THE EQUALIZER, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.) The story lays out a history of love with some momentary, heartfelt flashbacks to a time allegedly before Henry became his badass bionic self. The memories are hard to recall, only seen cut in and out for a moment’s time, but the passion they carry is real enough to motivate Henry into rescue mode.
Since 1993, studios have been trying to leverage a good cinematic spin-off of dozens of video game franchises, RESIDENT EVIL, TOMB RAIDER, MORTAL KOMBAT to name a few. Most of them are DOA on the night of their premiere, and a few manage to squeeze out a decent film, but only because they harvested elements of the original idea to fit a film format, endangering the franchise’s standing with their loyal audience by shoehorning the desirables across mediums. HENRY dared to stand as its own project: not a video game, yet not strictly a film. This dichotomy will no doubt negatively affect it with some film critics, but many films have done so before and maintained its marketability and it feels more like a successful film-school project (in a good way) that exceeded the expectations of the assignment, went viral and created its own genre.
Regardless of its box-office performance, I hope more films like HARDCORE HENRY will be produced, I’d like to see how far the POV genre can go. Also, I will definitely be getting it for my film collection, for the nights when I don’t have the energy to turn-on my Xbox, but still crave my video game fix.