The Lumière Brothers (early pioneers of motion pictures) showed a screening of L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat). The 50 second film shows the train pulling into the station - nothing more. However, myth would have it that the audience, so overwhelmed by what they were seeing, screamed and moved to the back of the room for fear of being crushed by the oncoming locomotive. Whether we choose to believe this or not, filmmakers have since looked for ways to make us feel truly involved. Whether it's the advent of 3D, IMAX or even the evolution of rotoscoping to full CGI, all these evolutions were bids to put the audience right in the middle of the action.
This is just the bulls eye that Ilya Naishuller is aiming for. Spinning out of his music videos for Biting Elboes (which you can see below) and shot almost entirely in first-person with clever rig designed with Go pro cameras, it's an thoroughly astonishing experience. Although you may not completely forget you're watching a film and take the place of our hero, Henry, there are some breathtaking and pulse inducing moments.
That's actually all there is - and we're not saying that's a necessarily a bad thing. Due to Hardcore Henry's unflinching conceit, the 2 hour running time is an inventive exploration into action set pieces. Almost a spiritual sequel to Jason Statham's Crank, the idea is presented - Henry is bio-mechanically enhanced, the telekinetic villain and love interest established - and we are a "Go"! Literally, crash-landing back to earth, Henry is consistently set upon by scores of henchmen attacking him in new situations and locale's. It's a dazzlingly enjoyable experience - if for some inertia inducing.
Although the film is pretty much one long action sequence, each part ups the ante. After all, with a modus operandi hanging completely on the first-person gag this could get quite tedious if not handled well. To be fair, Naishuller et al seem to have a real appreciation for the audience, and not just in the experience they're peddling. They have an understanding that the audience strapping themselves in for Henry's adventures are probably not looking for Oscar-winning dialogue and acting, so the story is kept simple with Sharlto Copley's Jimmy turning up between the bouts of violent bustle to point the way. If this sounds uncannily like the structure of a shoot-em-up available on most consoles, that's probably because it is. You can think of each increasingly bewildering set-piece as the next level in the game. There's even a boss fight complete with super-powered minions to be slaughtered, before moving into the next bought of boss-bopping.
However, Hardcore Henry is a whole tonne of fun. It may be simple in it's aims, while the only workout your brain will get is mentally check-boxing the Action Movie Essential Mix, it's a blast. We go from running through the streets to car park parkour. Shot at by guns, to shot at by a tank. Pursued on foot, pursued in vehicles. Get blown sky-high by explosives and try to climb a rope attached to an ascending helicopter. Imagine being in the front seat of all your favorite action scenes ever! Now Hardcore Henry is pure in it's pursuit of the action experience, but it's peril is naturally built in. Particularly when you leap from a building to grab a rope and slide down - that familiar lurch in your stomach will remind you that most of what Henry is achieving is by the skin of his teeth. It's important to reinforce the human element to a character when most of the action is bone crunching.
It's just as much a feat in technical accomplishment as it is in stunt work. Apart from the few knocks that render Henry unconscious, it's pretty much one continuous flight toward revenge. Just as much effort is put into the filming and editing to make it feel seamless. It's near perfect. There's the odd jutter in frame disguised in a whip-pan or smokey explosion, but it isn't afraid to jump forward a few seconds. After all, when you've just taken out a fleet of armored goons in progressively inventive ways, why would you want to slow things down by taking the stairs?
Like most roller coasters; there's the familiar twists and turns and you may not remember the name when you step off, but imagine holding on to the front car rather than locked in the seat.
3* - Kickin' Impossible