Before watching Hancock, it was hard to know what to make of it. Would it be a hilarious satire of superhero movies, or would it be the next My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Sure, its money-making prospects are not in doubt — it’s a fourth of July Will Smith movie — but even the marketers haven’t really known what to do with it. After a pretty cool teaser trailer, the ads have varied wildly, with some recent TV spots even making it look like some kind of heavy drama.
So what can you expect?
Well, for starters, you can expect two different movies. The first one is about a perpetually drunk, unpopular superhero named Hancock (Smith, of course) who gets an image makeover by a bleeding-heart public relations expert (Jason Bateman). It’s very funny, has a lot of cool action scenes, and is all-around very polished Hollywood entertainment. Frankly, I loved it.
The problem is, it’s fifty minutes long, and we’ve still got forty minutes to go to hit the full-length movie mark. So then it segues into the second movie: a three-character drama (with Smith, Bateman, and Charlize Theron, playing Bateman’s wife) that explores Hancock’s origin, takes some very strange detours, and throws in a few villains at the end.
They obviously had a lot of trouble with these last forty minutes, throughout the writing, filming, and editing: there wasn’t enough plot, so they had to make something else up. What they ended up with works, but you can see some frayed edges: one character inexplicably undergoes a makeover at one point, the villains are undercooked (they appear in two or three scenes and are used only as plot devices) and I’m almost positive the resolution makes no sense.
You’ll either go with it or you won’t. But for me, I liked the first section of the movie so much that I was willing to follow it anywhere, and truth be told, they make even the end work a lot better than it might seem. I was initially skeptical that director Peter Berg’s sensibilities would work with a superhero movie — he favors a lot of handheld camera work and random documentary-style zoom-ins — but it does work, and the special effects are top-notch. Unlike the cartoonish effects of Spider-Man, Hancock has a real heft: when he’s flying through the air holding a car, you really feel like he’s up there.
The most credit, though, goes to Will Smith. Charlize Theron does a good job, but she’s cursed with an impossible character that’s probably been re-written dozens of times. Jason Bateman (from Juno and Arrested Development) is, as always, hilarious. But Smith is the movie star, and he deserves every inch of that designation because he always brings his A game — he knows how to entertain, and
he works very hard, every time, to make sure he does. The opening scenes that establish his character are hilarious (Angry Woman: “You smell like alcohol, Hancock!” Hancock: “‘Cause I’ve been drinking, bitch!”), but he’s also willing to go to the darker places of his character, and not only in the drama-heavy second half: even when he’s playing the comedy, we get a living, breathing character.
I’ve said this for about a year now, but it bears repeating: Will Smith is the only true movie star in the world. Hanks and Roberts are past their prime, Cruise lost his reputation, nobody wants to watch Sandler in dramas, and Clooney can’t open a movie. In Hancock, Will Smith takes an offbeat project with script problems and turns it into a summer blockbuster worth seeing.
Movie Grade: B+
P.S. I’ve read some reviews that complain about not learning enough of Hancock’s origin story or not giving the traditional “villain” characters more to do. Huh? If that’s what you want, go watch every other superhero movie ever made.
There are heroes"Â¦ there are superheroes"Â¦ and then there's Hancock (Will Smith). With great power comes great responsibility "” everyone knows that "” everyone, that is, but Hancock. Edgy, conflicted, sarcastic, and misunderstood, Hancock's well-intentioned heroics might get the job done and save countless lives, but always seem to leave jaw-dropping damage in their wake. The public has finally had enough "” as grateful as they are to have their local hero, the good citizens of Los Angeles are wondering what they ever did to deserve this guy. Hancock isn't the kind of man who cares what other people think "” until the day that he saves the life of PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), and the sardonic superhero begins to realize that he may have a vulnerable side after all. Facing that will be Hancock's greatest challenge yet "” and a task that may prove impossible as Ray's wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), insists that he's a lost cause.