If you need an antidote to the over the top blah of Batman vs Supermanyour medicine arrived in the form of Hardcore Henry, a surprisingly awesome sci-fi shoot-em-up that moves at the pace of a speed first-person shooter – and crack, and some LSD for good measure. It’s the comedic-violent tale of deadly cyborgs, drug-smoking clones, and a telekinetic mobster-corporate oligarch in Russia. And it also has a great soundtrack.
Shot entirely from Henry’s perspective with head-mounted GoPro cameras, the film begins with a familiar cyborg premise. We watch through Henry’s eyes as he powers up, looks confusedly at the newly installed power ports in his chest, then watches as an engineer screws on his new bionic arm and leg. The engineer tells Henry that she is his wife, and she hopes that one day he will remember how much they loved each other. But there’s no time for lovey-dovey, nor to install Henry’s larynx, as the lab is immediately attacked by bad guys. While running for their lives, Henry discovers that the lab is actually inside a zeppelin, and he and the engineer barely have time to launch themselves into the only remaining escape pod.
In the midst of it all, we realize that the engineer – who jokes that Henry “never liked” her job – has done a sort of half-hearted job of covering Henry’s bionic arm with skin. She’s left his knuckles bare, so four shiny metal joints shine through. Of course, these perma-brass knuckles will come in handy, because Henry will spend this entire movie wordlessly pounding people with every weapon on his body and in his arsenal.
Reminiscent of cult favorites like Drive angry, Craneand Gamer, Hardcore Henry is a wacky, balls-out celebration of deadly action. There are no pretentious moments when we have to learn that violence is a metaphor for something. There are no political subtexts, nor thoughtful nuances. I’m not saying metaphors and nuances are bad – just that sometimes it’s fun to watch a movie that wants to be nothing more than a freak show ballet of gunshots, ripped open body cavities, and sword fights in helicopters.
Starring South African comedian Gonzo Sharlto Copley (District 9), Hardcore Henry comes from new director Ilya Naishuller, a Russian musician who shot the entire film in an unnamed Russian city. The setting is perfect: our characters hurtle through dilapidated apartment buildings and gleaming post-communist corporate skyscrapers, while grumpy Russian onlookers are hilariously unfazed by the rampant gang violence and mobs of the secret cyborg police.
The weird plot mostly revolves around how Henry became, well, hardcore. Turns out he’s the latest model under orders from Akan, an evil telekinetic mobster/corporate oligarch (because Russia) who’s building a cyborg army out of people he’s killed. Why is Akan telekinetic? Because it’s tough. Why is he building a cyborg army? Because it’s tough.
This is why I loved Hardcore Henry so much. It’s badassery for badassery’s sake. No excuses.
When Henry goes rogue, he meets Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), a man who keeps getting killed and reappearing just like an avatar in a game. Jimmy gives Henry a phone and a pair of pliers, then tells him to follow a map with the former and dig a power pack from a man’s beating heart with the latter. Which Henry does, with aplomb, but not before his target snaps that Henry is “half machine, half pussy.” Did I mention I loved this movie?
Every time Henry completes a mission, a new version of Jimmy emerges in a slightly different guise: nerdy scientist, pot-smoking hippie, punk rocker, British soldier, commando. Not only does this give Copley a chance to showcase his comedic range – usually to good effect – but it ultimately allows us to watch a musical number with all the Jimmy avatars that is absolutely insane. Every time you think Hardcore Henry can’t be knocked loose anymore, it does.
In the end there’s a confrontation between – I don’t want to call them good guys and bad guys since everyone in the movie is a maniac who kills for fun – let’s say it’s between our guys and their guys. And it’s hypnotically explosive. Somehow Naishuller keeps the action going at an absolutely silly pace, with slapstick timing and creatively gory effects.
Of course, no movie is perfect, and even a nasty little gem Hardcore Henry has its flaws. I’m sure the GoPro Shakycam will make some people puke. In addition, a movie that is about the joy of killing hundreds of people is obviously not going to be to everyone’s taste. There’s also an awkward moment of Russian homophobia and a twist that will be predictable to anyone who’s ever seen a cyborg movie before. But honestly, the movie is still blisteringly good.
If you’re a fan of cartoonish action and bone-crunching sci-fi, you need to see this Hardcore Henry. It will fill your black heart with joy and make your eyeballs boil with delight.
Hardcore Henry currently playing in cinemas.