Dwelling on Hardcore Henry

Ilya Naishuller kicked the stinkin’ door off its hinges with his bombastic, fully-FPS action feature Hardcore Henry – the first stunt-heavy attempt of its kind (he directed that headbanging Bad Motherfucker music video, did you expect anything less?). A smaller-scale invasion flick titled Pandemic did the same, and, for an indie, succeeded quite well at being a better Battle: Los Angeles. However, it lands more on the “found footage horror” scale. The same can be said about [REC] 2 ([REC] follows survivors, [REC 2] goes SWAT team). Hardcore Henry may not be alone, but it’s the first true action-spectacle audiences witness as a participant, not onlooker.

Say what you will about success (Hardcore Henry bombed unceremoniously), but Naishuller’s achievements opened doors that action filmmakers never dreamed of entering. His marriage of gunplay, parkour and complete video game immersion acts as an adrenaline shot to the heart. Numerous sequences show what perspective can do when raising tension. Like how Cloverfield makes the audience feel insignificant via size comparisons, Hardcore Henry locks viewers inside a free-falling escape pod to elevate danger and anxiety. Or peers over a building ledge for height recognition.

By implanting viewers into Nailshutter’s lead character, we’re equally blind to the dangers around each corner. There’s no spliced cuts or dueling angles. No alerts or giveaway framing. Older generations may not understand the appeal of X-Games filmmaking, but as someone who’s fought his way through countless FPS realms, Hardcore Henry is like a beta for what could be next.

The Wrong Moves

Now, not all advancements are necessary. As we near an age of picture-realism on the screen, one has to balk at zero lensing “imperfections.” Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk showed a side of action filmmaking I’d never care to see again.

In utilizing the crystal-clear projection rate of 140fps (frames per second), Lee promised uncompromised theater quality. Well, mission accomplished. The only problem? When Billy Lynn would flashback to wartime combat, there was no hiding the fakeness of props or settings. In vivid clarity, exploding rock walls were outed as painted foam bits that displayed no natural characteristics (chunks of wall floated with no density, for example). Blemishes that darkness or camera grit could cover became highlighted, all in the name of realism. Except, these movies aren’t real – and such a glaring reminder yanks us from a director’s spell.

Also on the negative spectrum is Act of Valor, a military action drama that exclusively features active-duty soldiers. Truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with the idea. Good on studios for employing military heroes. That said, audiences are less willing to gamble on features without at least some recognizable cast names. I’m not even saying the acting was detrimental to process – most of the parts were played with passable chops. It’s just that the common viewer isn’t going to notice the most intricate “professional” detail, and would rather see someone like Jake Gyllenhaal perform his researched take on whatever action title he’s headlining. It’s telling enough to know this “real soldiers!” pivot hasn’t been pushed since.

Looking to the Future

The action genre will always have its dependable mainstays – Jason Statham’s next outcast-on-the-run story or another impossible mission. While acknowledging these expectancies, one must understand that bigger ideas exist outside of the expected. Who knew we needed another xXx movie until xXx: Return of Xander Cage skied its way down a muddy mountain and into our hearts (more Fast and Furious than Fate of the Furious)? Director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland drew heavily from The Raid and whipped up their own sci-fi drugdream for Dredd. Hell, Ben Wheatley stages a hilarious single-setting shootout that shouldn’t work in Free Fire – but his sole location bursts at the seams with cold-cocked character. These types of movies are the future of cinematic fighting.

Now the only question is what comes next…and when can we see it?

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