Review – Hancock

Hancock [2008]

Starring: Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron, Eddie Marsan
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriter: Vy Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan

Most super hero movies feel as if they take place in another world, or another reality. They live by their own rules. Even if they, in many ways, try to transplant super heros into what we know as New York, or Los Angeles, or whatever city it may be, there’s always a slight disconnect. Hancock tries to tackle this problem by giving us a super hero who is anything but what you’d call an “ordinary” super hero, and yet feels like an “ordinary” person. It succeeds, to an extent.

Will Smith plays Hancock, a mysterious man living in Los Angeles who happens to have extraordinary powers. He also happens to be an angry, ornery alcoholic that does more damage that he does good. At the opening of the film, Hancock takes down some criminals on the highway. But the news report? “The damage Hancock caused this time is estimated at nine million dollars.” The people of the city don’t really seem to like him. He does more bad than good. And he doesn’t care, either. He’s vulgar, mean, cruel to little kids, and in a word, an asshole.

One day, a struggling PR man named Ray (Jason Bateman), finds himself stuck on some train tracks, and of course a train is approaching. Hancock comes and saves the day, but ends up destroying the train and Ray’s car. Everyone yells at Hancock, but Ray decides to stick up for him. Of course, he has an ulterior motive, and ends up convincing Hancock that he needs to clean up his image. Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) doesn’t like Hancock at all, and let’s it be known. She has her reasons, which are revealed later. But Ray doesn’t listen to her (of course), and as any good PR man would do, he works to turn Hancock around, and in the process, turn the city and its people on his side. So what does he do? He sends Hancock to jail to pay for all the damage he’s done, and attend AA meetings and anger management sessions.

And that’s where the delight of the movie comes from. I had a lot of fun with the first half to two-thirds of the movie. It was a joke on itself, and a good one. It knew how to have fun, and how to turn the idea of super heroism into one we could relate to in the real world. Hancock felt like a real person dealing with real problems, though he’s obviously much more than a normal person. Will Smith has been doing a great job in recent years, really picking appealing roles, and ones he’s able to work into in a way the audience can relate. I hope he just keeps going on the track he’s on, because he’s never been better.

My problem, though, came with the latter half and end of the movie. Hancock was a total mystery. And in a way, when the origin storyline starts coming into frame, the original vision gets muddled. I preferred to watch Hancock adapt to being a super hero, and be instructed on how to land so he didn’t destroy the ground, or to open the doors to buildings instead of just crashing through the wall, or to tell law-enforcement officials “good job” (even if they haven’t done a good job). So when the supernatural and ungrounded origin came in, I frowned. There could have been a lot more there, and it didn’t have to feel so tacked-on, like a last-minute detail to give the audience closure.

Still, I enjoyed the good things about the movie enough to recommend it. The special effects are very good, Will Smith does a nice job inhabiting the character of Hancock, and the first half of the film is funny, light-hearted and entertaining. Though it’s definitely not the best super hero movie of the summer, it’s definitely not the worst one ever made. Though, in a way, that might not be saying too much.


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