Ilya Naishuller’s ‘Hardcore’ is a tricky movie. One the one hand, it’s a pretty amazing technical accomplishment that’s almost without precedent and will pin genre fans to their seats. On the other hand, it’s an almost offensively stupid bit of storytelling that would likely even make the average 12-year-old roll his eyes in disbelief.
Enjoyment comes down to how long you’re able to turn off your brain. Thankfully, Naishuller throws enough insanity at the screen that it’s entirely possible to keep those brain cells at bay for the full running time.
If you haven’t heard yet, yes, ‘Hardcore’ is an action movie executed entirely in a first-person perspective. The story opens when the silent protagonist opens his eyes for the first time. His wife (Haley Bennett) sits by his side as a robo-leg is screwed on to complete his transformation into a cyborg assassin. Just as he’s about to get his voice and complete his journey to becoming a killing machine, a white-haired telepathic psychopath (Danila Kozlovsky) shows up and screws everything up. Our hero is sent plummeting from a science center in the sky down to the streets where he’ll have to parkour, shoot, chase, drive, fight and decapitate his way to victory.
It sounds like a videogame setup and the movie sure feels like one since it’s shot like a first-person shooter. You’ll sure wish that the “Skip” button would appear when most of the characters open their mouths because most of the plot is gobbledygook and most of the actors are completely wooden (especially Kozlovsky, which is a bit of an issue since he’s the major villain of the piece). It’s also pretty offensive in its use of bro humor, which is nowhere near as ironic as the movie seems to think it is. (See the ‘Crank’ movies for how to do that right.). It’s a pretty dumb movie, and aside from the lovable Sharlto Copley in a handful of roles, it’s pretty horribly acted as well.
However, none of that idiocy matters when the movie is in pure thrill ride mode, which is most of the time. There are sequences here that are astoundingly immersive and thrilling, and will transport viewers right into the middle of over-the-top and batshit insane action until they feel ready to hurl (which I’d imagine the director would consider a compliment akin to a standing ovation). It’s truly a technical marvel that feels like it’ll be imitated and studied for quite some time. Complaining about the idiocy that goes on between all the imaginative money shots feels like a waste of time. This is a wild ride that won’t soon be forgotten, for all the good reasons and the bad.