Hardcore Henry is one of those rare commodities: a film that embraces its own wanton insanity and sky-high entertainment value to such an extent that it becomes almost impervious to criticism. Breakneck in pace from the opening frame, its constant ability to leave you reeling gives it a breathless, thrilling quality that leaves you with little room to mull over its admittedly papery plot.
More readily comparable to a video game than a film, Hardcore Henry sets up what little exists of its actual storyline inside the first ten minutes or so. Our hero – whose adventures are depicted through the medium of a Go Pro resting alternately on the heads of the director and two cinematographers – wakes up in a lab to find his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) attaching a robotic leg to his body, having lost the original below the knee in an unspecified accident. Moments later, the facility (which, in the first of many smart visual tricks, is actually on an aeroplane) is raided by the villainous Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who seems to be possession of mysterious telekinetic abilities. Henry escapes, but Estelle is kidnapped. What follows is Henry’s attempts to rescue her, and all of the bone-shattering bloodshed that accompanies them.
So yes, Hardcore Henry‘s plot is effectively “defeat King Koopa and save the princess”. However, the film leaves you with very little time to dwell on its lack of narrative substance in the moment. Henry’s rampage is such a powerhouse of entertainment that you don’t stop for breath long enough to really think about how little there is propping up its histrionics. At the centre of the film’s appeal is Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, who is tasked with guiding Henry through the world to which he is acclimatising. Without giving too much away, Jimmy appears in a variety of guises, and Copley nails it. Knowingly over-the-top and in possession of pitch-perfect comic timing, he doesn’t miss a beat, and much more than Henry is both the film’s head and heart.
It’s difficult to be overly critical of Hardcore Henry‘s shortcomings. Awash with big laughs, smart action set pieces – including one of the best foot-chase sequences in recent memory – and some seriously inventive kills, this isn’t out to score points for its ability to engage on an intellectual level. What it does set out to be is a big, loud, brashly entertaining spectacle, and if nothing else, it knocks that particular aspiration out of the park.