Death of the Critic

Why Did I Watch That? - Harcore Henry

Written by: Tom Blaich


I watched a bad movie today. It is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. Watching bad movies that is. I revel in the terrible plots, paper-thin characters, cheesy effects, and wooden acting. It fuels me. I love them in a way that I can’t quite describe, or feel about bad games or music. To me, bad films deserve to be recognized, talked about, and maybe occasionally ridiculed. This one is no exception.

A frequent statement of derision within the community of movie reviews is to state that the film feels like a video game. To many of us who have actively engaged with games for a long time, this feels like a weird accusation to level. To us, games conjure images of world-trotting adventures, roguish main characters, white knuckled action and spectacular set pieces. And there is a whole realm of games outside of this mold that are doing their best to push the boundaries of storytelling as a medium, seeing how the player character’s interactions within a fixed game space can alter the meaning of the story that it is trying to communicate.

But to film reviewers, video games conjure images of disconnected levels strung together by a bare string of a plot, mindless action and repetitive violence, uncompelling characters and a nonsensical story arc. And even as a rabid fan of games as a medium, I still have to admit that this is fair criticism to level, if still a difficult one to hear.


Hardcore Henry promised to change that view, leaning heavily into these preconceptions to try to create a new kind of action movie. Based off of ideas shown in the music videos, “Bad Motherfucker”, filmed by the same director and partially funded through IndieGoGo, it promised to revolutionize action movies and how we look at action on screen.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

I really like first-person scenes in an action movie. Shot and used well, these scenes can be an excellent way to break out of the mold and interject some more up-close action into a movie. The problem comes that after the first five minute long scene of fighting, the gimmick has been used up, and we start to see the problem inherent to this style of shooting.

Like “shaky cam” taken up a few notches, the constant movements of the camera are distracting and obfuscate what you are really trying to watch. It feels closer to a piece of YouTube machinima (video game filmmaking) turned live action, a short sketch that will garner millions of views but ultimately fail when tried to scale upwards.

The main character, Henry, does nothing to alleviate this. Part cybernetic warrior, part loving husband, he relentlessly pursues his comically evil foe in order to get his lovely scientist wife back. Unfortunately for Henry (and possibly fortunately for us), he cannot speak. You see, they didn’t install his voice module after his accident, so now he is our perfect silent video game protagonist, mixing three parts Gordon Freeman with about as much angst as you can handle, and then a dash more on top.


Since Henry cannot speak, he finds a quest giver in Jimmy, played here by Sharlto Copley. Copley plays a variety of different characters, a range of one-note stereotypes seemingly chosen to let him be as ridiculous as possible, from a bat-wielding British punk rocker to a posh World War 2 soldier with a submachine gun, to a drug addict obsessed with prostitutes (because you know this movie needed its token amounts of nudity). But to Copley’s credit, he plays each character with a reckless zeal owning the part for five minutes each time before they die (of course - and quite graphically I might add).

So what did Hardcore Henry actually bring to the action genre?

It blatantly disregards the idea that action should be clear and easy to follow, it shrugs off story in favor of tired video game tropes, and it has more one-note characters than a warehouse full of abandoned cardboard cutouts. Yet even with all of that being said, we do need movies like this to push the boundaries of cinema. Even in its failure, there are lessons that can be learned. The ludicrous action is laughable but fun, and with variations to camera perspectives, you could build compelling fights based off of what is here. It didn’t work this time, but it might in the future.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

You Might Also Like:
Why Did I Watch That? - Cradle 2 the Grave

Situational Invincibility and How it is Ruining Action Movies

Anatomy of a Scene - The Babadook

Images courtesy of STX Entertainment

blog comments powered by Disqus