Hardcore Henry, the first action film to be shot entirely from the first-person perspective, is out in theaters today with an intended audience that couldn’t be more clear. The sci-fi action flick is for the gamers who’ve spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of their lives working their way through combat in first-person shooters. Premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Hardcore Henry was written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, frontman of the Russian indie rock band Biting Elbows. The group has gone viral in the past for its violent, special effects-enhanced music videos—also directed by Naishuller.
A film like this deserves to be seen through the lens of a gamer, the same way a superhero film deserves different criteria than dramatic Oscar bait. The only problem is that Hardcore Henry would make for an atrocious video game, meaning it’s only worse as a movie.
Storytelling and dialogue can often take a seat behind gameplay and still make for a decent enough game, but the elements should never be as disrespected and disregarded as they are in Hardcore Henry. The film’s plot is convoluted and almost entirely lacking of context. The best actor is whoever had the camera on his head—at least he was spared from reciting Naishuller’s inane, emotionless, and gratuitous profanity that falls flat in its effort to be shocking. Not that video game dialogue is anything to be impressed by. The dialogue in Fallout 4, an excellent game, often feels robotic, but it has life, especially compared to Estelle (Haley Bennett) telling Henry she loves him. And Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a villain who looks like a cross of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and Kurt Cobain, has the presence of a high school senior in his last week of classes. The closest thing to an enjoyable character are the many faces of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who morphs from coke fiend to biker hippie to shrubbed-out sniper to a sweater-vested dweeb. But the caricatures are too overdone to be genuinely fun, and not a single punchline lands.
Henry is a cyborg super soldier tasked with rescuing his wife from Akan and preventing him from building an army of super soldiers. What Akan intends to do with these super soldiers is unclear, and he’s essentially bad because the movie says so. He also has telekinesis, and is the only character in the film (and maybe world?) with a superpower. Why isn’t this sufficient power for Akan to do whatever it is he intends to do? I don't know. It’s a logical question, and Hardcore Henry has no time for that.
But what about the first-person experience, from which Hardcore Henry is deriving all of its buzz? Isn’t it totally awesome? Not really. It’s little more than a novelty and doesn’t add anything to the atrocious story. Often, the viewpoint only makes the action difficult to follow, as the camera jerks excessively and blurs the events onscreen. I’m not even prone to motion-sickness, so I can only imagine how much worse it’d be for someone who is. If this were a videogame, the look sensitivity would be maxed out and locked in.
As both an avid gamer and watcher of movies, watching Hardcore Henry was one of the most laborious tasks of my life. I'm gonna go play Fallout now.