Exhausting, ultra-violent actioner from debut helmer Ilya Naishuller, with Sharlto Copley
It’s a shame that a film called Shoot ‘Em Up already exists (a 2007 Clive Owen vehicle, since you ask), because that would have been the perfect title for this adrenaline-fuelled Russian-American co-production, which explicitly replicates the experience of playing a spectacularly violent first-person shooter video game. Hardcore Henry’s non-stop barrage of mayhem, destruction and bloody mutilation means that its cult status is all but assured amongst its target audience of Xbox junkies – but anyone who likes their thrillers to come with trifling things like plot or characterisation will find that the central gimmick wears thin very quickly.
The first-person conceit means that, effectively, the audience becomes Henry and the film begins with him (or rather, us) waking up on a surgery table as a doctor who says she’s his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) screws in some robo-limbs and tells Henry he’s now a cybernetic super-soldier. However, before his vocal chords can be activated, telekinetic albino supervillain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) bursts in, kidnaps Estelle and starts shooting up the lab. After a dramatic escape, Henry receives mission instructions from a variety of colourful characters named Jimmy (all played by Sharlto Copley) and he sets about violently murdering anyone who gets in his way as he attempts to rescue his spouse.
Former music video director Ilya Naishuller does a good job of maintaining the film’s breakneck pace and some of the action sequences are remarkably inventive – most notably a frenetic car chase, during which Henry ploughs his vehicle straight through another vehicle, body parts flying everywhere. However, with nothing to latch onto in terms of Henry’s thoughts or feelings (he remains mute throughout), the relentless action rapidly becomes exhausting, while the often sickening violence is regularly made even more unpleasant by the film’s casual misogyny (sample scene: during a strip club shoot-out, Akan hurls a naked woman at Henry). Incidentally, don’t be fooled by Tim Roth’s name in the credits – he’s in it for less than ten seconds, popping up in a prologue that goes bafflingly unexplained.
General release from Fri 8 Apr.