I went into Hardcore Henry assuming that the entire first person POV film would give me motion sickness or a headache but was glad that I was afflicted with neither. For those unaware, Hardcore Henry is a new action film set entirely in a first person POV perspective, like a first person shooter video game. Having said that the film is still a mess. It suffers from a poor story, narrative, and incredibly fast action sequences that blur together; making the film difficult to follow. The film thus is ironically held back by the very thing that makes it interesting, it's first person perspective.
The first person POV camera has been experimented with before in Lady in the Lake and in a sequence in Doom. The problem with the POV camera for an entire film is the limited focus for the rest of the film. In Henry, the plot, characters, and even action all suffer because we cannot show any other camera angle. Doom may have been a failure of a film, but it did manage to do its POV action sequence pretty well. The camera is steady, and moves slower than it does in many of Henry’s action sequences, allowing the viewer to coherently follow the action and reorient themselves. Henry unfortunately devolves into a disjointed and confusing mess, going from one action sequence to the next with hardly any helpful exposition for the viewer.
The plot...well there isn’t really much of one. The limited first person focus means that character development, story, and narrative are restricted to what you can show to the first person camera. When you have what is basically a mute floating head with visible arms and legs as our protagonist then this becomes an issue. As far as I could tell the plot involves a private military or mercenary corporation in Russia with unexplained unlimited resources trying to build cyborg mercenaries to take over the world….or something. It’s pretty silly, but I suppose most people interested in the film aren’t going to care about the flimsy plot since they came for the action. Needless to say the plot is virtually non existent and the film strains to string together various unrelated action sequences.
Henry’s two good components are some of its action sequences and Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), its main supporting character. When the action sequences are slow enough to coherently follow, they are very entertaining. Particularly the car sequence featured so prominently in the trailer. Unfortunately these sequences happen very few times in the film. Many of the other scenes are of the confusing variety as the camera (and our protagonist) is flung wildly around in a chaotic mess. The other standout in the film, Jimmy, a seemingly unkillable friend of Henry, is played with great hilarity by Copley. Copley is basically the main character of the film as Henry’s guide, and thus the viewer’s through the convoluted narrative. Every time Jimmy is seemingly killed he miraculously comes back as another character with a vastly different personality. In a film with a tissue thin plot, this odd issue is actually explained quite well toward the end of the film and was one of the few things that worked really well.
I respect the effort and passion that the filmmakers put into the film. Hardcore Henry is a neat experiment; it’s just a shame that it didn’t work. The first person POV camera is extremely limiting in terms of just about every aspect of film narrative, story, pacing, character development and structure which leaves Henry feeling unfinished and unpolished. In addition the POV camera can get extremely disorientating during the intense frenetic action sequences. Hardcore Henry is for only die hard fans of Twitch video game streams of Call of Duty. If you get motion sickness from regular movies or video games, you may want to sit this one out.
TLDR: Hardcore Henry is a violent romp. Its first person perspective is as innovative as it is restrictive. It’s held together by some fun action sequences, and a stellar supporting character. ⅖ Stars.