‘Hardcore Henry’ Movie Review: Inventive Sci-Fi Levels Held Back By Stuttery Framerate, Still Better Than Recent ‘Call Of Duty’ Entries

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Sharlto Copley as Jimmy keeps 'Hardcore Henry' fun. STX Entertainment

Yes, Hardcore Henry is like a video game, but it’s not like watching someone play a video game — a crucial distinction. Trapped in a living room as someone plays Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Again Fuck It There Are Robots This Time can be painful. Play is halting, kicked back again and again by death, advancing in the strafe-one-two, retreat-one-two, grenade-one-two dance steps of tactical play. Hardcore Henry is like watching a highlight reel of an advanced AI rip through only the best missions (a shameless rip-off / tribute to Modern Warfare’s “ All Ghillied Up ” is just the beginning), each shot a headshot, twitch mastery in motion.

Hardcore Henry opens like Halo, with some first-person calibrations and a rundown of the controls. Henry is a corpse turned cyborg, who fails to get his voice chip installed before the flying fortress where his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) works is assaulted by telekinetic warlord Akan.

Telekinetic. Warlord. Akan is a perfect example of one of the more pleasant Hardcore Henry surprises. Beyond its first-person action gimmick, Hardcore Henry is endlessly, repulsively inventive.

Often people will forgive bad characters or stories if the spectacle dosage is high enough — the “it’s a great popcorn movie!” argument. Hardcore Henry hits on another vector: disgust. The capacity to offer some new mutilation or human contortion to jaded horror movie gorehounds may not depend on our most high-minded instincts, but Hardcore Henry’s flair for violent chaos is undeniable.

The credits give a good idea of what’s in store as slow motion knives slide into throats and bullets sink into a human skull, the camera tracking with it as the skin ripples out and turns ragged. Bodies get telekinetically slammed, exploded and burned, heads squish open or off, and cyborg cadavers rip open their own chests to insert new batteries, just under and behind the still beating heart.

It’s not just gore where Hardcore Henry flexes its gleeful creative muscle, but also in its surprising amount of science fiction elements. Billed as an action movie, Hardcore Henry is surprisingly genre. In addition to its telekinetic villain, Henry encounters futuristic skylines, clones, Blade Runner memory dilemmas and flamethrower dudes in deliriously silver Fifth Element duds.

Despite having a terrible video game damsel in distress story (plus some retrograde “bitch had it coming” plot logic), Hardcore Henry’s failings are not what you might expect. Yeah, the plot hangs together like wet tissue, with some of the forward progression as brazen as a phone call telling Henry where to go next, no explanation required, but the scene-by-scene construction is tight as a drum.

Action in Hardcore Henry feels memorable because it’s broken into clear levels, each a sequence with its own costumes, vibe and enemies. And while Henry himself may be a dud, Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy is a blast, paying tribute to video game do-overs and neatly repackaging Edge of Tomorrow with a surprisingly clever sci-fi conceit that pays off in a truly strange dance sequence.

The real problems are graphical. Hardcore Henry was shot on GoPros and far too much of the action feels like a mountain bike rattling downhill. It’s not nauseating, just obscuring, with the frame leaping back and forth far more than even video games have pushed the look—the Roadie Run has got nothing on Hardcore Henry. Even worse than the framerate is the resolution, with low light sequences in particular blurring faces more than ten feet from the camera. Peter Jackson’s failed push for 48 fps would have helped Hardcore Henry.

Bad case of the jitters aside, Hardcore Henry pushes way past the gimmick, justifying its conceit with a joyous, blood-soaked energy that proves that even when pilfering video games, movies can do it better.

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