Gamers Should See Hardcore Henry

It seems like only yesterday we were ranting about the lack of decent video game movies out there but then we caught Hardcore Henry over the weekend.   The plot is pretty basic but we enjoyed the over-the-top action, acting, and stuntwork.  When you read the reviews for Hardcore Henry, you’ll see reviewers complaining about the senseless violence and lack of a plot.  To us, however, the movie seems to be simply replicating the experience of a video game and, in that endeavor, it seems to succeed quite well.  This seems like a movie made for gamers, much more so than movies like Pixels (which is a great movie for people with a passing familiarity with 80’s arcade games or people who just like laughing at nerdy stereotypes); this is a movie that pokes fun at lots of video game tropes that gamers will recognize.  Here are four things we think gamers will appreciate about Hardcore Henry.

Does Henry have really long arms or do all of the action heroes in video games have very short ones?

SHARLTO COPLEY IS THE PERFECT NPC

While the entire movie is told through the eyes of the supersoldier Henry, the most frequently appearing character in the movie is Sharlto Copley.  Copley plays several characters with wildly different personalities who assist Henry (don’t worry, the movie explains this) and are violently killed at regular intervals throughout the movie.  The way he plays these numerous characters so broadly will remind most gamers of the FMV games that were popular in the 90’s, and the way he drops loads of exposition in every sequence with enough enthusiasm to keep you interested will make you wish he’d show up in games that could use some more exciting exposition dumps (cough *Call of Duty*).  He’s helpful (and quick with extra ammo) but never outshines Henry in the action sequences, and his ability to recover from being killed reminded us a lot of the NPCs in Fallout (and, to be clear, if he were in Fallout, he’d be everyone’s favorite NPC).

If Sharlto Copley gets his own game, I’m definitely picking it up day one.

EACH ACTION SEQUENCE PLAYS LIKE A VIDEO GAME LEVEL

The movie feels very episodic; each scene has a pretty defined introduction, gradually increasing violence, and a definitive ending.  It feels like levels of a game, with each level in the movie defined by the appearance of Sharlto Copley with new outfits, accents, and exposition.  Each level is a pretty well-defined action sequence in which Henry must assassinate a particularly fleet-footed target, chase down an enemies’ van, and escape an assault while (sigh) escorting a vulnerable target (one thing this movie demonstrates is that it’s much more fun to watch an escort mission than to play one).  The movie follows the pattern of a video game by regularly upping the stakes of these levels and introducing new weapons, abilities and enemy types as the levels continue.  To movie fans, this type of structure must seem somewhat disorienting, but to gamers, it’s extremely familiar.

Well this isn’t the most difficult boss fight ever.

SEXINESS AND NUDITY IS AWKWARD

There’s a few brief sequences of intimacy in Hardcore Henry between him and his wife and later at a strip club/brothel (that looks like every brothel in every game).  These sequences are pretty brief and function really as respites between action set pieces and while they probably just seem awkward and disjointed to non-gamers, to gamers they will seem very familiar.  Whether it’s The Witcher, The Order: 1886, The Saboteur, any of the Grand Theft Auto games, Metro, the Saboteur, Dishonored or any other game out there, these locations always seem potentially tantalizing but wind up awkward and weird.  Romance and physical intimacy in video games has been never been criticized for being too realistic, and the movie reminds gamers that these sequences are never as successful we anticipate.  Wisely, the movie quickly reintroduces action sequences reminding us that while violence continues to be well-represented in games, romance (of any kind) still has a long way to go.

Violence in games continues to find new ways to offend while intimacy in games seems still has a long way to go.

THE FINAL BOSS HAS WEIRD, INEXPLICABLE POWERS

At the start of the movie, Henry is quickly introduced to the final boss (Akan), an albino hipster with telekinetic powers and sinister motives.  Why does he have these powers?  What do these powers have to do with anything?  The movie never says, and – as a gamer – I get that.  I never questioned how the bosses I battled got their powers; their powers are meant to provide some sense of vulnerability and make me question how I’ll overcome them, despite the fact that I’ve killed hundreds of people on the way to this final confrontation.  That effect is reinforced in games when you encounter the final boss several times and are not able to overcome them (our favorite example is always Resident Evil 2’s Tyrant).  Hardcore Henry does the same thing and – just like in the games – the repetition makes Henry’s ultimate final battle more satisfying because of it.  Again, movie goers will anticipate some kind of explanation for why the Big Boss is able to move objects with his mind and for that explanation to play a role in how he is defeated.  Gamers, meanwhile, will simply start looking for a pattern and trying to figure out who to overcome that Boss’s attacks.  One could argue that the end of this movie depends on Henry’s ability to think like a gamer, and – as a gamer – that’s extremely satisfying to watch.

This sleepy looking emo guy is a lot more dangerous than he looks.