DIR: Peter Berg • WRI: Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan • PRO: Akiva Goldsman, James Lassiter, Michael Mann, Will Smith • DOP: Tobias A. Schliessler • ED: Colby Parker Jr., Paul Rubell • DES: Neil Spisak • CAST: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan
A dysfunctional superhero movie has always been on the cards. However popular a hero is, it is always when their edge is sharpened or when their anti-hero personalities appear that they seem at their most interesting. To date, the output on this front has been a mixed bag, ranging from the mediocre (Mystery Men) to crimes against humanity (My Super Ex-Girlfriend). Iron Man of course and his alcoholic playboy alter-ego, Tony Stark debuted this year setting a new standard, while fans await with bated breath for Wolverine to make a solo run and of course Watchmen.
With Hancock, as well as the dysfunction, there seemed to be a promise of turning superhero conventions on their head. In needing neither to satisfy a fan base nor concern itself with loyalty to any back catalogue of stories there was potential to mould an intelligent and, more importantly, an entertaining summer blockbuster. With adult themes, sharp humour and characters being the main attraction, it looked as though brave steps had been taken in having the admittedly spectacular special effects play second fiddle to the story. So too the long list of credible directors attached to the project at various stages. The talent that did eventually line out suggested there was substance behind the premise: Will Smith, who has the Midas touch when it comes to the material he chooses, Charlize Theron, normally considered a serious actress who would hardly be slumming it in a brain-dead movie and director Peter Berg, while not having a solid track record, last stood behind the lens for the underrated The Kingdom.
Things begin positively and indeed for a chunk of the running time the movie delivers. Smith is on top form playing a recluse burdened with needing to save the citizens of LA from crime – a group becoming increasingly unappreciative of his efforts as he turns up drunk to save the day and inevitably causes more carnage than that he was trying to prevent. His attitude towards people is belligerent at best, caught in a cycle of frustrations of his own creation. An encounter with Jason Bateman’s PR agent sets the superhero on the road to reform and had this been the sole progression of the movie it could have been a triumph. This is the movie’s high point with some genuinely sparkling humour inter-cut with quieter moments from an excellent Smith, a real character at the centre of the story and all indications are a story of substance might be bubbling beneath the surface.
It is fair to say, however, that the fate of the film is sealed with a kiss. A revelation turns the film on its head, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, undermining everything achieved to that point. The humour and fun in the film is truly truncated for the audience and most certainly the players. Bewilderment is the best description of how to react to the second half of the movie – the writers seem to lose the courage to continue with the enterprise. What seemed new and engaging rapidly develops symptoms of the failings of other such movies. Every recognisable superhero from Superman to Spiderman and the rebooted Batman franchise have followed the standard routine of an exciting introduction to the lore of the hero before tagging on a weak villain plot with varying degrees of success. It becomes apparent that Hancock has followed suit and introduced us to an exciting character before letting the movie unravel under the weight of an extremely ill-judged twist.
The audience restlessly watches as the story turns mythological and gets bogged down in senseless detail that does not sit anyway well thematically. There are illogical character developments – Smith and Theron both loose the gusto in their performances and Bateman, who seems to have some Sisyphean-type commitment to playing sarcastic everymen, feels out of place for the remainder of the film, having been integral to its earlier charm. A hastily cobbled together conclusion hardly matters as the film has languished so badly, failing to deliver on any potential. The insights, wit and playing with superhero standards could have framed a smart story and still found time to demolish national monuments. Instead, the movie’s development is directly inverted to its main character’s reform and as Hancock begins to function better the movie itself becomes a frustrated mess.
Aside from superhero movies, the most apt movie to compare Hancock to is Groundhog Day, a film which took a concept and did not concern itself with the need to over-explain, or indeed explain at all and left its personable characters and story of surprising depth be the pivot for the movie. Hancock disappoints most on this point.