His Blazing Automatics is a Vague Visages column by staff writer Dylan Moses Griffin.
Hardcore Henry seems to fall into one of two categories, depending on who you ask. It’s either a massively fun blast of ultraviolence that commits to its gimmick to joyful ends, or it’s a cheaply made excuse for an action film that commits to its gimmick to nausea-inducing ends. Either way, at least it commits to its gimmick, right?
Now, calling director Ilya Naishuller’s debut the future of action cinema is a bit over-reactive. And yes, in case you haven’t seen any trailers, the gimmick is that it’s all shot first-person, reminiscent of playing a video game, as the resurrected and memory challenged Henry must rescue his wife from an evil corporate warlord. It’s like when a new player gets called up to the big leagues and hits a home run with his first at-bat… you don’t immediately start petitioning the Hall of Fame committee. But at the same time, this is a film that’s made purely for the effect of being fun to watch, and it succeeds at that. Is that so offensive? It is violence for violence’s sake, and I’m okay with that. The whole film has the feel that Naishuller (and probably the whole cast and crew) did six lines of cocaine before each take, and that is a compliment. But in this argument over the future of how action films are shot, a much more interesting question becomes glossed over: Does Hardcore Henry change the possibilities of what an action hero can be on screen?
Hardcore Henry may be the first action film to succeed at being an action film without actually having a visible action hero, and that’s an incredibly unique feat. Henry has all the traits of a classic action hero, yet we never really see Henry due to the first-person shooting style, technically making Henry the camera operator rather than a performer. Henry kicks a lot of ass in this film, making some unforgettable kills and takedowns in the process. Due to the fact that Henry doesn’t have a voice module installed, he never speaks, yet the character still gets moments that physically communicate the classic bad-ass one-liner. One of the highlights is when he takes his own blood, wipes it on a surface and then doodles a wry (it’s best experienced cold). Henry is everything we would expect from an action hero, just minus the fact we never see his face.
It’s time for a thought experiment. The big question is this: If you insert an actual actor into the role of Henry, does it make the film better or worse, or just keep it the same? One person I talked to accurately said that Hardcore Henry reminded them of the Crank films, so keeping in line with that, let’s ask ourselves how the film works if Jason Statham is inserted into the role of Henry. Does the film still kick ass? Yes, of course the film still kicks ass, it’s Jason Statham. But it kicks ass in a much more generically shot way. You lose the engagement of the shooting style, which is kind of the whole point of the thing.
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type about any film (and now I have to rethink my entire life): Oh my God, Hardcore Henry actually gets worse if you insert Jason Statham. So yes, in a way, Hardcore Henry kind of reinvented what the cinematic action hero can be by not even showing us one.
Dylan Moses Griffin (@DMosesGriffin) has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.