First-time director Ilya Naishuller's "Hardcore Henry" isn't a typical film. It's a first-person video game on the big screen. It's shot entirely from Henry's (played by various stuntmen with GoPros attached to their heads) perspective. He doesn't say a word because his voice chip was never initiated.
Henry wakes up in a lab at the start of the film/video game with his limbs getting screwed into place by his scientist wife Estelle (Haley Bennett). She tells him his memory has been wiped and that he's a hero who will be back to normal soon. But then, as video games often do, the dialogue scene gets abruptly interrupted by a Russian mobster named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) who wants to kill Henry. We don't really know why Aken wants Henry dead, but we also don't really care because the bullets start to fly, not even 10 minutes into this movie.
The problem is the action just isn't interesting. The first half of this movie relentlessly repeats the pattern of the opening: dialogue scene interrupted by bad guys running into the room, then the action starts up again. It's a video game structure through and through, but we don't get to play.
Henry's wife is eventually kidnapped, and he joins forces with a mysterious ally named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) to run through set pieces shooting people in first person. But it isn't really until the half-way point where the film becomes slightly entertaining. The film abandons its video game structure, and becomes much more streamlined. The story is finally fully revealed, and the goals become clear. Once the stakes are established, it gives the movie room to breathe.
And once the movie relaxes a bit and gets the plot out of the way, the action suddenly becomes much more inventive. Set pieces are far more interesting later in the film, ranging from an abandoned building that Henry clears floor-by-floor to a highway chase made all the more interesting with the ingenious usage of the GoPros.
The beginning of the film was riddled with stale jokes that never landed a single time, but the movie has an all-around brisker pace to it as it moves along. The action scenes are put to hilariously fun 80s music (Queen included) and the violence becomes so over-the-top that it's hard not to leave "Hardcore Henry" with a smile on your face.
Taken holistically, "Hardcore Henry" is an immensely average experience. It has an extremely underdeveloped plot, which would be fine for a movie of this kind. Unfortunately, it only has a degree of action for half the film. What's left is a relatively bland and ultimately forgettable experience. It's a shame considering it was a movie that had a completely new way of presenting action sequences for the movies.
But honestly, just play "Call of Duty" instead.
Reach Staff Reporter Joseph Salvato here.