Hardcore Henry ★★★★

The obvious criticism of Hardcore Henry would be that it is a macho, homophobic, misogynistic video game fantasy with some of the most gratuitous violence ever perpetrated on an audience—not to mention a pretty poor sense of humour. But that would ignore its many virtues. On a visual level, it's at least as impressive in its cinematography as Russian Ark (2002), with its uncut, relentless first-person GoPro perspective. Like The Raid (2011) or Dredd (2012) the action sequences can be exhausting and claustrophobic, though it surpasses these films in sheer unpredictability, to say nothing of the huge quantity of unbelievable stunts. While not as moving or mature as Victoria (2015), with which it shares a seamless continuity of shot amidst escalating violence, it may have its own morals in mind.

If the end result is nauseating and horrid, you might consider, as I did, whether it might not be a critique of the hypermasculine, aggressive culture which has arisen in Russia, as well as of the expendability of Russian men—whose life expectancy has dropped to levels around Ethiopia or Somalia. Leviathan (2014) may be a more grimly realistic view of Russian kleptocracy and injustice, but Hardcore Henry could be seen a commentary on how impersonal and senseless the violence can feel, how little agency and community its people have, as well as the direction that crony capitalism seems to be taking its dwindling population. The cyborg protagonist, who never has a voice synthesizer implanted, remains silent, reminiscent of the man in The Cut (2014) whose larynx is punctured in the Armenian genocide, leaving him unable to speak about the murder of his family or the other atrocities he silently witnesses. Hardcore Henry could also be seen as a nightmarish re-envisioning of films like Come and See (1985) or Stalingrad (1993), where unsuspecting youths are thrust deafened or mute into the unspeakable horrors of the Eastern Front. Not for the fainthearted; but then it has the word "hardcore" in the title!