Kevin's Review: Hancock - Missing the Super in Superhero
by Kevin Powers
July 3, 2008
With the battle for superhero supremacy at the box office this summer, there's obviously going to be a film that brings up the rear. Midway through the season, we securely have that last place decided, and it is Will Smith's Hancock. Despite Smith's superhuman credentials, Hancock struggles to rise above messy special effects, an ill-suited director and a supremely bumpy storyline. While indeed there are funny moments, the film stumbles around in confusing fashion, much like it's liquor-loving lead character. Drunks can be funny at times, too, but they're more often sloppy and loud, much like the film.
Will Smith stars as the degenerate, conspicuous superhero who cares little for people or property, reluctantly getting involved in emergencies only when it suits him. Often, his rescues cause more damage than they prevent. In one of those instances, Hancock destroys an entire train and the surrounding area in order to save Ray (Jason Bateman). Thankful, Ray offers to lend his PR craftiness to the widely criticized superhero, promising to turn his image around. Charlize Theron plays Ray's wife, who, along with their son, Aaron, help to break down Hancock's bum-like, hardened exterior. The superhero learns such things as how to softly land without destroying roads and complementing others' work - Hancock's real superhuman feat is telling another "good job."
These earlier scenes are where Hancock is most enjoyable due in no small part to Smith's forthright swearing. When Hancock threatens to put his "foot up the ass" of a leering, elderly woman, you can't help from busting out in laughter. Same goes for a bystander that accuses him of smelling of liquor. His reply: "That's because I've been drinking bitch!" How Hancock has a PG-13 rating is a bit of a surprise, considering the various F-bombs Smith drops.
Equally surprising is the director's effort. Peter Berg's intimate, coarse directorial work on The Kingdom was fitting and well-executed for the action and subject matter. Berg brings a large amount of that flavor to Hancock, pairing style and substance like socks and sandals - the combination just doesn't work. Hancock begs for blockbuster polish and bow-ties, smoothly shot scenes of suspense that wrap up nicely, which take the audience for a pure popcorn ride. Instead, Berg resorts to tight shots, hand-held cams and disorientating special effects. Berg's sensibility for gritty realism and an air seriousness and drama - Theron and Smith do know how to emote - just doesn't work for an off-beat superhero that drinks and swears. Hancock should be fun and flashy, not studied and emotional.
Where the film equally falls down is in the plot. While Hancock starts off as a tale of a lonely, bitter superhero trying to love himself and others, it abruptly morphs into a story about Hancock's purpose and origins. Either plot line by itself would be fine, but the joining of the two is done with shoddy effort. At just over an hour-and-a-half, the team could have spent more time sanding down the stories' seam, but that wouldn't have helped explain the bizarre bad-guys after Hancock. Led by a less-than-imposing Eddie Marsan (Mission: Impossible III, Miami Vice), the troupe of villains is never developed and feels totally contrived. Hancock has another more meaningful force to battle, but we'll leave that detail in the film.
Despite Hancock sitting solidly in last place on the chart of superhero movies out this summer, the film will still do well. Smith has an installed base that will venture out to see Hancock, however sub-par it might be. Fans of Smith will enjoy the special effects and comedic quips, while genre followers will be sadly disappointed. For those who now feel let down, be like Hancock and go have a drink instead.