There have been a number of video game adaptations over the years, but no film has truly embraced the first-person gaming experience quite like Hardcore Henry. This may technically be classified as a film, but this is essentially a video game through and through, with the only difference being that you don’t need a controller to experience it. Shot entirely in the first-person perspective using mounted GoPro cameras, the audience sees everything through the eyes of our protagonist Henry. It’s a unique way to shoot an entire action movie and director Ilya Naishuller is sporadically successful with his gimmicky premise. It may have its problems, but this is ultimately a rollercoaster ride that you can experience at your local multiplex.

The film begins with Henry waking up inside a high-tech laboratory, having survived a terrible accident. His wife (Haley Bennett) is a scientist who brought him back from the brink of death, giving Henry a robotic arm and leg. But shortly after Henry awakens, the laboratory is attacked by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a villain with telekinetic powers who hopes to create an army of mercenaries similar to Henry. Henry is able to escape from Akan’s clutches, but his wife is taken prisoner. With the help of a mysterious individual named Jmmy (Sharlto Copley), Henry is on a mission to find his wife and he’ll destroy anything and anyone who gets in his way.

Similar to last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Hardcore Henry is essentially nonstop action from start to finish. Its first-person perspective creates a unique twist on the genre and it’s often interesting to see how it’s used. It works best when Henry is engaging in gunfights, particularly in one sequence where Henry is attempting to sneak through a building. These moments where Henry is utilizing firearms truly feel like a first-person shooter videogame and it’s fun to see how these elements translate to a motion picture. A parkour chase scene is also pretty well done, as is an awesome sequence involving Henry jumping from a motorcycle onto a mercenary’s van. But it’s the hand-to-hand combat where the first-person perspective falls apart. The camera moves around way too hectically, making the action difficult to follow and giving viewers a headache in the process.

This might be a nonstop action thrill ride, but don’t for a second think that I’m putting this on the same level as Mad Max: Fury Road. While that film had characters and a story that worked well alongside the action, the characters and story here are pretty terrible. Henry’s wife works as plot motivation and nothing more, while Akan is a lame villain with telekinetic powers which are used so sparingly that it’s a wonder why they were included at all. The only character that stands out is Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, who is both funny and intriguing. Copley’s performance is actually pretty good and it’s a joy whenever Jimmy appears on screen. The story is pretty barebones as well, but all of these problems do seem to match the videogame aesthetic that the film is trying to achieve.

If Hardcore Henry wanted to be really ambitious, it could have tried to appear to play out in real time, with all of its cuts hidden from the audience. This would have made sense considering how the normal person doesn’t experience lapses in time throughout their day. It probably would have been nearly impossible to achieve this with the amount of action in the film, but the film could have been a new action classic if they somehow managed to pull it off. As it stands, Naishuller does an adequate job turning this premise into a feature, although perhaps a short film would have been more effective. But even though it might feel a little too long, this is still a crazy ride, filled with ridiculous action and over-the-top levels of violence. Buckle up.

Hardcore Henry receives 2.5/4

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