I remember when I was eight-years old and I used to watch my brother play video games. It was a hell of a time, but watching him play games like Medal of Honor: Frontline (games clearly inspired by the world of cinema, in this case, Saving Private Ryan) had import and meaning. Not in the actual watching, but in the bonding between brothers. Sitting at his side, or lying on the bed behind him, I could suggest alternate paths or methods of attack. Now, strip everything that made watching my brother play meaningful and fun, and you have an approximation of what it’s like to watch Hardcore Henry.
To put it plainly, watching Hardcore Henry is like watching your friend play the latest Call of Duty online: impotent to suggestion and uncomfortable from all the vitriol being spewed at/from the screen.
Before we address the misogyny, xenophobia, and just plain hatred, let us look to the elephant in the room. Yes, this movie is filmed from a single perspective (that of the eponymous Henry), and no, this is not revolutionary in the slightest. It is neither the first to do this nor is it even the best example of such, as that may be 2012’s Maniac, where the bold choice was made with purpose.
The main issue with this decision, as it is used in Hardcore Henry, is that much of the action is rendered either incomprehensible, or its power is diminished due to the lack of proper composition. Henry is undoubtedly doing some badass shit, but all we see is arms and legs flailing across the screen. Take the parkour, for example. As thousands of YouTube videos have established, it’s much cooler to see the guy perform his various athletic feats in the third, or outside, perspective, than it is with some GoPro, first-person perspective.
But, sure, it captures the aesthetics of video games perfectly. The issue arises in how accurately it also captures the poisonous attitudes of many blockbuster games.
There’s the misogynist view of women being either objects to be rescued, or vile, treasonous witches. Were there more than the one woman in the film to provide some grayer shades to the proceedings, perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh. Alas, we are left with the tired Madonna/Whore complex.
There’s also an air of xenophobia to the film that presents itself in, again, much the same way they appear in video games. The countless goons being shot, dismembered, and utterly mangled by our mute protagonist are all foreign (in this case, Russian), including the primary antagonist whose accent, like Sharlto Copley’s, is beyond categorization. Now, you may be furiously rushing to your keyboard to type through angry tears, “But Jeffrey! The director is Russian! How can he be xenophobic against himself?” Well, prospective commentator, the issue arises when you consider that Henry is presented as being an outsider. All we know is that he’s “married” to a very white woman, and his name is Henry (a less Russian name I’ve never heard).
It just occurred to me, maybe I’m wrong and this is another case, like Gone Girl, where the film doesn’t hate a specific group of people, it just hates people. Except, where Gone Girl was a meticulously crafted film with a script by an incredibly intelligent woman, Hardcore Henry is just another “no girls allowed” sandbox that literally tells you to make people bleed.
Just like video games!