REVIEW: Hancock [2008]

“Tonight, He Comes”

Hancock has the kind of premise that you wonder why it took so long for someone to put it on the big screen. With the plethora of comic book movies coming to cinemas this decade, it was only a matter of time before we were given a tale of a washed up superhero, drunk and lonely, being berated for his destruction rather than praised for his bravery. Alan Moore delved into this realm with his graphic novel Watchmen, (for which it seems Zack Snyder has not massacred turning it into a film itself), and Pixar’s The Incredibles touched a bit on the subject with the disbanding of heroes by the government, however, here is something different. This guy doesn’t hide his identity or pretend he is something he’s not. No, he lets it all out on the line and most of it is unflattering and just plain rude. Jaded from the lack of respect he receives, John Hancock finds that he’d rather wallow away in solitude than try and make people like him. Sure he will still go out and help where he can, while making 9 billion dollars worth of damage, but when he’s done, it’s back to the bar and the bottle, his only friends in the world.

All that changes with a chance meeting of a down-on-his-luck public relations man. Caught a second from death as a train barrels down on his car, Hancock swoops in and saves his life, while harming many others in the process. Seeing an opportunity to get back into the big leagues, Ray Embrey decides to make his hero his new client. By having this freak of nature turn himself into authorities for the warrant out for his arrest due to the multiple fines and disturbing the peace charges, Ray thinks that a little time away from the city will show the people how much they need him. While incarcerated, crime goes up 30% in just five days, people start to worry as the criminals begin to feel invincible, and, to top it all off, Hancock gets a little quiet time to himself so that he can rework his image. Dealing with anger issues and alcoholism on the inside, Ray also begins to work on his personality, turning him into a civil person, or at least as close as he can get, (when you see Hancock’s smile for the camera, you’ll understand what I mean). Once the city comes a calling, his rebirth will allow him to be ready to take control as someone the public can trust, rather than hate.

Ripe for comedy, the fact that Ray is played by the immensely talented Jason Bateman and Hancock by Will Smith, the film delivers on the funny. I always assume when Bateman gets on a roll that a lot is improvised, and once again I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case here. The two build a fantastic rapport and the sarcastic wit flies back and forth. What is refreshing amidst this comic bent we expect is how good Smith is as the jerk. This guy has made a name for himself as the blockbuster hero, modest and heroic to a fault, never showing a selfish bone in his body. Here, however, he is egotistical, self-absorbed, and downright mean. It’s like how I felt watching Russell Crowe chew the scenery in 3:10 to Yuma, watching a great actor play against type is like discovering them all over again. Smith is one of the best out there and he doesn’t disappoint.

As a whole, it really is just about these two guys, becoming business partners and friends as they ride the waves to success. I don’t want to leave the rest of the cast behind, though, and must make mention of Charlize Theron. After reading an early synopsis, when the film was still titled Tonight, He Comes, I had her character pegged into a certain place. I was completely wrong and surprised to see where her role goes as she plays a very crucial part to the story. I will admit to never really getting all the hype around her, (no I have not seen Monster yet, it’ll happen eventually), but she is very solid here as usual, I don’t dislike her, I just don’t see the unending praise. Also, like every Peter Berg film of late, this thing is chock full of cameos, (you’ll even see the director himself, harkening back to his “Chicago Hope” days in a split second scene). I mean, when you get director pal Michael Mann and writer Akiva Goldsman to poke fun at themselves in a board meeting, you know this guy enjoys what he does and invites his friends along for the ride.

Despite all that works for it, the film doesn’t quite do its premise service. If the writers would have stuck to the comedy element and continued on that path, I think the story would have benefited. Instead, Hancock attempts to be bigger then it is. Without any real villain to root against, (the only bad guy is actually Hancock himself as he tries to turn his life around), there isn’t really anything to create a worthwhile climax with weight. Instead we are shown a chance coincidence and how the stakes of that event hold the lives of two of our leads in the balance. The situation wants to be dramatic—hence the slow-mo visuals—but ultimately becomes a bit out of place if not obvious. It all works ok, though, mostly because the film itself is very slight and devoid of true plot. The evolution of Hancock is a rapid one and at barely an hour and a half, there’s not much room for more depth. The laughs are big, however, and the film entertaining, so as a popcorn summer tent-pole, Smith will most definitely deliver some big numbers, even though he’s going against that cute little Pixar robot.

Hancock 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Disgruntled superhero Hancock (Will Smith, left) is confronted by a boy (Atticus Shaffer, right) who urges him to get up and get after the bad guys in Columbia Pictures’ Hancock.
[2] Jason Bateman (pictured) stars as Ray Embrey, a PR exec trying to clean up a disgruntled superhero’s public image, in Columbia Pictures’ Hancock.
© 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved


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