The easy dig at "Hardcore Henry" is that it's like watching someone else play a video game without getting a turn yourself. That's true, but a more accurate and condemnatory criticism is that whether it were in the form of a film or a game, it'd be terrible, a monotonous drudge through same-y looking designs and rogues and annoying side characters before it finally shuts off and shuts up.
Shot on a GoPro, the film takes place entirely from protagonist Henry's point of view. He's been brought back to life by his scientist wife Estelle (Haley Bennett), who's given him bionic limbs and super-strength but hasn't uploaded his voice yet. Before she can, they're interrupted by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky, looking vaguely like Ewan McGregor in "Velvet Goldmine"), a telekinetic supervillain planning to use their technology to build an unstoppable cyborg army. He kidnaps Estelle, leaving Henry with only his incredible strength, his apparently intuitive sense of how to use anything as a weapon, and the assistance of the shape-shifting and apparently immortal Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) to save the day.
The film is directed by first-time filmmaker Ilya Naishuller, best known as the frontman of the Russian rock group Biting Elbows. He's got a good ear for music cues, with inventive use of The Stranglers' "Let Me Down Easy" in the opening credits, The Sonics' "Strychnine" in an action scene and Elmer Bernstein's theme from "The Magnificent Seven" serving as highlights (I'm far less impressed with his own songs that show up in the film).
Naishuller previously directed a pair of videos for Biting Elbows utilizing the same first-person aesthetic and heavy stunt work and violence. The stunts are impressive in a pure "How'd they do that?" sense, but they're more impressive for three minutes at a time than they are for an hour and a half, when every shooting, stabbing and explosion from first-person looks exactly the same.
The effect is numbing, particularly when paired with the flat, uninteresting environments, be they dilapidated buildings, rooftops or futuristic settings. I'm not a regular gamer (mostly because I'm terrible at them), but I've played enough for everything "Hardcore Henry" shows me to look familiar and boring. The interactivity (the appeal of video games) has been removed, as is the innovation and imagination that comes with the better-regarded first-person shooters ("Half Life," "Halo," "Bioshock").
The film doesn't even capture the appeal of a Let's Play video, in which more experienced gamers walk through a game, spicing things up with jokes or commentary: There's nothing to play, and the only sense of humor is either dully juvenile (there's a shootout at a strip club, because the film wasn't enough of a lame "Duke Nukem" knockoff as it was) or provided by the superhumanly annoying Copley, doing his best to fit in every bad performance he can think of into one character and 90 minutes.
The draw, then, is the stunt work and violence, which pales in comparison to the more vividly charged and nasty likes of the "Crank" movies. Naishuller is clearly influenced by "Crank" directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, going beyond the extreme violence of their most famous films to directly lift a song-and-dance routine from their less-acclaimed "Gamer," which it can't match.
Left without any of the animating devices of its influences — the verve, the visual sense, the humor, the appearance of Jason Statham, the controller — it's hard to imagine exactly who "Hardcore Henry" is for. Really, wouldn't you rather just play a video game?