Hardcore Henry is, summed up, a wild, wild ride. And for moviegoers looking for that non-stop deluge of violence and adrenaline, it’s the perfect film. Me, when I want to see gore, I go to a horror movie. Action flicks like HH should be using violence to advance the plot, not as decoration.
Don’t get me wrong, this movie was vastly enjoyable. Partially because I have a fascination with cyborgs and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good cyborg movie, so I’ll take what I can get, but for other reasons, too. An example: Jimmy. He was arguably the most interesting character in the movie, had a nice arc and was fun to watch in all of his forms. I also loved the headache-inducing way the movie was filmed, and this is coming from someone who normally hates all things shakycam. But this first-person experience was original and engaging, and it had the intended effect; I felt as if I was part of the action. But admittedly, this was not always ideal.
Violence and gore in movies is kind of like wasabi. Wasabi is great. Sometimes it makes food taste better. But it’s tough to choke down on its own. When you’ve got a violent film, you need to augment that brutality with other elements, like compelling characters, an interesting plot, and context for just what makes this violence necessary. Otherwise, as you go, it just gets harder and harder to swallow.
Another problem I had with HH was its one-dimensional female characters. Estelle’s only redeeming factor was that she turned out to be married to the bad guy, and even then, she still doesn’t have much else going for her. The problem wasn’t even that there weren’t enough women, it’s that the writers didn’t even try to let anyone who wasn’t a rugged-looking white guy have a piece of the action. Even the strip club girls could have been written well with a little effort. When Katja and her friend showed up, I actually sighed in relief (Finally! The badass girls are here!) but within five minutes they were reduced to a stereotype just so Jimmy could go “Women, eh?” and have a laugh about it. Then they both died. And unsurprisingly, since few characters in this movie live long enough for me to give two shits about them, I didn’t even really mind. Even the one character I did care about couldn’t go ten minutes without getting himself blown up.
I wanted to like Henry as a protagonist, I really did. At first, with his silence and the way he endured the plot rather than drove it, he reminded me of Max Rockatansky circa. Mad Max: Fury Road. I liked this quiet protag’s crisp gestures and compulsive instinct, and something about the way he was bounced around Akan and Jimmy’s conflict like a ping pong ball (when he’d probably rather be sleeping or, you know, adjusting to life as a partial robot) just made me want to root for him. However, it was a little unsettling that Henry didn’t appear to have any kind of hesitance in shooting people/ tearing them apart/ etc., despite his confusion about his situation. We’re supposed to assume that he has morals because of one heavy-handed and out of place scene where he prevents a random background character from being raped, but honestly, without memories or a voice, there’s nothing solid there to assure us that he’s not just a killing machine. Why should I care about him? I got the sense that we weren’t really getting to know who Henry was because the viewer is supposed to be the real protagonist, but our militant cyborg simply has too much going for him to be stuck serving as a faceless audience vessel. There has to be more to him than that.