The Last Sci-Fi Blog: The Amazing Science Fiction Kernel at the Center of 'Hardcore Henry'

The Last Sci-Fi Blog: The Amazing Science Fiction Kernel at the Center of 'Hardcore Henry'

Apr 07, 2016

Hardcore Henry is, first and foremost, an action movie. More specifically, it is an action movie shot from the first person perspective, putting the audience directly in the shoes of its title character. The result is a movie that borrows borrows video game language. Above everything else, Hardcore Henry is what we get when filmmakers who grew up with gaming controllers in their hand get the chance to strut their stuff with an actual budget and a crew and stunt performers willing to do insane things in the name of truly crazy action. I didn't love Hardcore Henry, but I admire the hell out of it. This movie sets a goal and it reaches it. For a certain kind of audience, it's going to be a big deal and I can't begrudge anyone for digging it.

However, there is one aspect of the film I unabashedly love. When Hardcore Henry isn't being a nutty first person POV action movie full of guns and mayhem, it's actually a science fiction movie. After all, the movie begins with Henry waking up in a laboratory, resurrected from beyond the grave and missing a few limbs. Soon, he gets himself some robotic replacements. He's a cyborg, capable of incredible feats of strength and endurance. This is not what I love about Hardcore Henry, but it helps set the stage for later revelations, which take a wild left turn into a slightly harder and more imaginative science fiction.

Slight spoilers for Hardcore Henry begin here.

Early on, Henry encounters Jimmy, a seemingly capable gentlemen dressed for business and ready for battle. He's played by Sharlto Copley, so we instantly recognize him. And then, moments after he's introduced, he's brutally killed. Then, a few minutes later, Jimmy shows up again, now dressed as a homeless person. Once again, he's brutally taken apart by the villains in pursuit of Henry. The pattern repeats. Various forms of Jimmy, all in various states of dress and all representing a variety of lifestyles, continue to aid Henry on his mission. Most of the Jimmys die, but there are always more where that came from. Eventually, Henry is led to an isolated compound where he learns the truth about his mysteries allies: they are all robotic avatars created by the real Jimmy, who was paralyzed by the film's main villain some years before. Now, he plots his revenge by wirelessly plugging into and controlling his small army of synthetic selves, who give him an opportunity to blend into various environments and live out aspects of life that he never experiences when he was healthy.

It's a very cool revelation and a story point that could have been the complete focus of entire movie. A scientist who did evil work now has a second chance. He can be a soldier and a punk rocker and a coke snorting buffoon. He can be everything he wants to be and everything he dares to be. But in the end, he's still confined to a wheelchair and still alone in his secret lab, plotting vengeance against the man who took his health.

Hardcore Henry gleefully recycles many familiar video game and action movie tropes, filtering them through a big action movie lens, but the character of Jimmy is the only area where the movie actually comments on the film's unique presentation. "We" are Henry in the same way that Jimmy is his avatars -- he fights and he bleeds and he suffers, but it's all secondhand. It's all a game. It's all so detached. Another movie may have taken time to ponder whether or not Jimmy feels responsible for the violence and mayhem he causes while in control of a virtual self (and maybe implicate the audience in enjoying "being" Henry while he rampages), but Hardcore Henry is only eager to get to the next big action scene. The film dips its toe into this concept rather than take a plunge.

And this is why Hardcore Henry is a curiosity more than a must-see film. In Jimmy, I find a character I'm deeply fascinated by, living a life that I want to know more about. But he's not the focus of the story. He's just another stop along the way for Henry. And that's a shame.

Categories: Features, Sci-Fi
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