Hancock (2008) Movie Review #2

Talk about a bad rep. No, not Hancock the drunken superhero’s – I’m talking about “Hancock” the movie. Peter Berg’s drunken superhero movie hasn’t exactly been embraced by movie reviewers on or off-line, and the main bone of contention seems to be its haphazardly written and executed Plot Twist, which occurs about halfway into the film and besides catching everyone off guard, makes little to no sense in the grand scheme of things. In said Plot Twist, a character reveals a secret that changes everything. Alas, it’s not exactly for the better, as the revelation is a bit, let’s say, kinda stupid, not to mention turning what could have potentially been a great superhero movie into a Saturday morning cartoon show. And not the good kind of Saturday morning cartoon shows, either; we’re talking Saturday morning cartoon shows from the ‘70s and early ‘80s here, folks, and we all remember how dastardly awful those were.

“Hancock” stars Will Smith as the world’s only superhero. Unfortunately he’s also a booze hound, and although he spends part of his time saving the world when he can be bothered to get off the park bench, it ain’t exactly a love affair between Hancock and the public. So what’s it like being the only superhero in the world? Not a very happy life, it would appear. Hancock has been too powerful for so long that he doesn’t remember what it’s like to not be bullet-proof, or be able to toss cars around like they’re decks of cards, which he does regularly by the way. As a result, Hancock intersperses his (oft-drunken) attempts at heroics with drunken bouts of, well, heavy drinking. He goes by the name Hancock, but people seem to prefer calling him asshole instead. Thanks to the miracle of public relations, and Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a PR everyman whose life Hancock saves one day, the superhero’s public image is about to get a little makeover. Is Ray right when he says that what Hancock really wants is to be a hero, and that with a little absence, the public will crave his return? Probably, otherwise we wouldn’t have ourselves a movie, would we?

The common refrain seems to be that “Hancock” is making its bucks not because of a great story, but rather in spite of it, thanks to the star wattage of its star, which seems to have easily outshone the bad reviews and less-than-spectacular word of mouth that have plagued the film since its opening day. As of this writing, the film has grossed just south of $400 million, and should easily qualify as another Will Smith hit, naysaying critics be damned. But is the movie really that bad? Well yes and no. Yes, it is quite a major letdown if you were expecting something major and grand; No, if you were expecting pretty much what the trailers presented the film as: a goofy superhero movie about a drunken superhero played by Will Smith.

Let’s check off the list: goofy superhero – check; Will Smith – check. So there you have it. The film not only lives up to its own advertising, but it’s a nice, entertaining movie to boot, even if most of it makes not a lick of sense. To be sure, all those criticisms you’ve heard about the film are all true. It really is quite the muddled mess; the Plot Twist really is that lame; and yeah, the bad guys in this one barely registers as bad guys, making their final assault on Hancock, in a hospital no less, less than thrilling. It’s basically a guy who can write on concrete walls with his pinkie versus a bunch of loser ex-cons who have broken out of jail through the miracle of lazy screenwriting. Are you shitting me, Hollywood? This is my Third Act throwdown? Hey, screw you! Try harder next time!

But where was I? Oh right. “Hancock” pretty much lives up to what you’d expect from the trailers. I can’t say if it’s any better or worse than some of Smith’s recent Summer Event films, including last year’s “I am Legend”, which had, like “Hancock”, one good half in it. Comparing “Hancock” to both “Men in Black” films and Peter Berg’s Smith movie fares well enough. Mind you, not that this movie is better than those other two; actually, they’re about the same. Nice little CGI-heavy movies with a little dash of action, a little dash of humor, and a whole lot of Will Smith charm thrown into a pot and stirred, and released in the Summer for light consumption. Did you actually want more? Perish the thought.

If one needs to be disappointed with something in “Hancock”, Peter Berg should be the object of your letdown. Early reports from advance screenings of “Hancock” had the film being edgier, racier, with more than a little sex thrown in to really get the lead character down and dirty. Instead, much of Berg’s trademark grit seems to be missing. Of course, if the idea was to make a goofy, 90-minute something action movie without any of the frills that comes with, you know, substance, Berg has succeeded. But from the man who gave us “The Kingdom” and “Friday Night Lights”, I had expected more. Then again, it’s all about expectations, isn’t it?

Still, I can’t call “Hancock” a complete failure. It certainly doesn’t do a whole lot of things right, but I didn’t really mind the film’s goofy, never-serious-for-a-split-second narrative. And while yes, I’m still scratching my head about the origins of those massive tornadoes that just showed up suddenly in Downtown L.A. (Wow, seriously, what the hell was that about, Berg and company? Did you guys actually write that into the script? On purpose?), I still came away from the movie feeling less gyped than most of my fellow reviewers. Perhaps I never expected too much from a movie about a drunken superhero played by Will Smith. In my perfectly humble and not nearly expert opinion, “Hancock” the movie delivered what “Hancock” the trailers were selling. No more, no less.

Would I have liked to see more? For instance, a coherent screenplay that didn’t feel as if the writers tossed it together with tongs and an eggbeater while watching ESPN sports highlights? Sure, why not. And while we’re at it, why don’t we all pray for world peace and no more head-bashing “comedies” starring Martin Lawrence. Okay, how about just putting a moratorium on movies starring Paris Hilton, then? Not even that. Ah, screw it.

Peter Berg (director) / Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan (screenplay)
CAST: Will Smith … John Hancock
Charlize Theron … Mary Embrey
Jason Bateman … Ray Embrey
Jae Head … Aaron Embrey
Eddie Marsan … Red
David Mattey … Man Mountain

Buy Hancock on DVD