Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hardcore Henry Review

If you follow my reviews closely, you'll know that I've talked quite a bit about STX Entertainment recently. They're a small production company that was formed recently with the goal in mind to release several medium-budgeted movies each year. Personally I'm a fan of seeking out the movies with a small budget instead of only watching the big blockbusters, so I love their approach and thus have made sure to seek out their movies. The other thing that attracted me to Hardcore Henry was the unique approach to the movie. I believe that this is the first feature-length film to be done entirely from the first person. It's the first one I've seen, anyways. If there are others out there, please let me know. Being that this is a pretty violent action movie, the outcome is that it gives the illusion that you are in a first person shooter game. I'm not a gamer and I don't like first person shooters, but I was curious to see how this would turn out as a movie, especially because I do like action movies. As it turns out, while there is a lot of elements to this movie worthy of praise, I felt that this ultimately wasn't a movie for me. But I do want to be careful with this review because I know that this movie will have an audience that will love it and I want to do my best to help you figure out if you are part of this audience.

I mention that Hardcore Henry comes from STX Entertainment. The full story behind it is that STX purchased this movie for $10 million at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, who is the frontman of the Russian indie rock band Biting Elbows. Naishuller directed a couple of music videos for their songs that ended up going viral because of this first-person shooter format that they used. Namely, one of these music videos currently has 33 million views on YouTube. I won't name this song because it would require typing an f-bomb in this review (which I don't do), but if you look up Biting Elbows on YouTube, you'll find it. Due to this success, Naishuller decided to take this idea and run with it in a feature-length film that debuted at TIFF. I believe the whole movie (or at least most of it) is shot using a GoPro, which is a fascinating idea for a movie. Unless of course the idea of watching a cyborg, superhuman fight a bunch of baddies with a GoPro makes you feel a bit sick. If any sort of shaky camera technique in a movie makes you sick, then I'm going to tell right up front to skip this movie, because this is the shakiest movie I've ever seen. Even I started feeling a bit dizzy in certain scenes and I can usually do good with shaky cam.

If you don't mind shaky, then I will say that there are a lot of scenes in this movie that are really exhilarating. I don't know how much of this was pure stunt-work versus visual effects, but I'm sure all of you have watched those GoPro videos of someone doing something insanely crazy out in nature. That gives you quite the thrill, right? That's exactly what this movie does. There are times where our dude is climbing a building, jumping across something, getting pushed off of something, or jumping off something that gives you quite the thrill. The scenes themselves are nothing original for an action movie, but the fact that this is done GoPro style makes it a blast. Then you have the action itself. Due to the fact that you feel like you are this character, the intensity is raised quite a bit. There are a lot of scenes, most of the movie in fact, where these villains are chasing and shooting at Henry. In a normal action movie this can get intense because you are fearing for the main protagonist. But it takes it to another level when it feels like you are the one being shot at. The other part of this is that when Henry is kicking trash, your self-confidence shoots through the roof because it feels like you are the one kicking everyone's trash. You walk out of the theater feeling like you can conquer the world.

On this same humorous note, there is a bit of guilt that settles in when you watch the movie. I don't know about you, but Henry does some things that I wouldn't do in real life. Because of the fact that it feels like I was him, I almost wanted to apologize to some of the people I ran into or shot with a gun that I didn't need to shoot. It wasn't my fault, though. I was being forced to do all of this. It also got rather disgusting at times when blood was splattering on my face, when a head (or whole body) would explode, or when I would walk past the dead corpses of villains that I either shot or blew up with a grenade. Obviously you aren't going to see this movie if you don't like action movies, but I'm just going to give you a warning of how violent and bloody this movie is. Know what you are getting into. And don't go watch a censored version of this movie on a place like VidAngel because there won't be much of a movie left to watch. This is non-stop blood and violence in your face for the entire run-time. You're either all in or you're not. If you enjoy watching a movie as violent as Kingsman or any Quentin Tarantino movie, then you'll probably enjoy at least portions of this movie.

The problem here is the narrative. You can definitely tell that this a movie written by someone whose main profession is musician who has only written and directed a few really good music videos as opposed to a professional screenwriter. There's not a whole lot of substance to this story. I do like the fact that we are thrown right into this movie without knowing what is going on. The premise does follow the Jason Bourne formula in that our main antagonist has no idea what is going on and has to try to figure things out himself. In our instance, Henry can't even talk which makes it even more like we are Henry. But after like 20 or 30 minutes, the movie started getting old. You can kinda see through the mystery the whole time so the "twist ending" comes with zero surprise and the plot itself is very thin. We're just going from place to place fighting a bunch of bad guys. And we don't slow down at all. I would've liked to slow down a bit in certain scenes to build some story or have some character progression. The best action movies do exactly that. Take Mad Max: Fury Road for example. The movie wasn't just a non-stop chase scene. We stopped on multiple occasions to develop Tom Hardy's and Charlize Theron's characters and thus the flow felt right.

This movie just kept going and going and going and the only plot that happened at times was a certain character telling Henry where to go next. Thus I started to actually get bored before too long and this is where the novelty of the GoPro action started to ware off and I instead started getting a bit dizzy, especially when it got super intense with all the jumping, ducking, falling, twisting, dodging, and all that fun stuff. This movie is only 96 minutes long with credits, but it felt a lot longer. There was literally about four or five action sequences where I felt like this should be our final battle. But we must've been only an hour in, maybe less, when I started getting these thoughts. When I went to look up the run time afterwards, I was certain that the movie was over two hours long. But no. Apparently it was a fairly short movie when compared to some action movies. This is why I feel the lack of an interesting story and the non-stop pace made this feel much longer. Yet I do know that there will be people who won't be bothered by this. I'll compare this to a game of Halo. I don't play Halo much, but when I do play, I either like short spurts of multi-player or the campaign because of the story. Some people can play the multi-player for hours and I just don't know how they do it because I get bored of it quick.

If you are one of those people who do like playing multi-player, first-person shooter games for hours on end and having a story to your gaming isn't necessary, then I feel that Hardcore Henry is a movie that you will really enjoy. That type of gaming I can do in short spurts every once in a while, but I get bored of it pretty quickly. I'm predicting there will be a correlation here. I think you have to be more than just a fan of action movies to enjoy Hardcore Henry. I think you have to be a fan of play first-person shooters for hours on end because that's what this movie is. Maybe I'm wrong. But that's just my prediction. I also think that there's a chance if you are this type of person, you don't necessarily go see a ton of movies, which is why I think this movie flopped in its opening weekend. They couldn't get their target audience to go see their movie. Sure, STX will still make a profit due to the small price tag, but this is looking like it'll be the studio's lowest grossing movie yet. As I said, there's plenty to praise with this movie and I did have a ton of fun for a little while, but due to the lack of an interesting story as well as the non-stop pace, I was checked out mentally around halfway through and thus my grade for Hardcore Henry is a 6/10.

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