Hancock (July 9th 2009)
In amongst a spate of “serious” and “dark” superhero movies of late – The Dark Knight and Watchmen come to mind as primary examples – Hancock must have seemed like a breath of fresh air when the original trailers began showing; a comedy, not a spoof, about a pissed-off superhero who doesn’t care about the public he protects. However, after the initial 40 minutes of comedy antics and stunning set-pieces, the film takes a sharp left-turn that can only be described as inexplicable.
I’m sure that I’m not the only person who was enjoying the entertaining, if simple, plot of Jason Bateman’s PR guru Ray trying to turn Will Smith’s Travis-Bickle-with-superpowers into your friendly neighbourhood superhero. While it wasn’t groundbreaking, the premise certainly had 90 minutes of entertaining material in it, and would have kept the laughs coming, which, let’s face it, is the reason why people went to see this film.
The turn it takes for the final act – introducing another superhero, and thereby completing ruining the original premise of the film – could have worked if this other superhero was a villain, but unfortunately between the three of them, Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan, and Peter Berg could not decide whether Charlize Theron was a supervillain or a superhero, and left her to rot as a cutaway character during the final “battle”. Not that it was much of a battle – a few guys with guns against a man who has pretty much every power in the superhero book is only going to go one way.
As much as the conclusion of this film was a disappointment, the preceding minutes were full of promise. The story was somewhat illogical (why did Hancock bother to be a superhero if he cared as little as he clearly did?), but entertaining nonetheless. The opening set-piece, involving Hancock flying around with a car in his hand, and, later, a bank robbery that Hancock foils in the midst of a hail of gunfire, were both stunningly put together by a director who certainly knows how to shoot action sequences, even if his dedication to anything much more meaningful is less than lacklustre, as anyone who has seen The Kingdom will attest to, I’m sure.
As well as these triumphs of CGI, the interplay and chemistry between Bateman and Smith is almost perfect. These are two of the finest comic actors working today – throw Paul Rudd into the mix and this film would instantly boast the greatest comedy line-up of any recent film – and their interactions are certainly no let-down. Smith on his own delivers some excellent one-liners (“I’ll break my foot off in your ass, woman” to a gawping woman in a bar and “Okay. Well, you should sue McDonald’s, ’cause they fucked you up.” To an overweight naysayer are my personal favourites), but it is when the two of them come together that they really shine. There isn’t much point listing them for two reasons. One, there are too many to list. And two, it is all about reactions and timing, something which doesn’t easily translate to a written medium.
Not only does Smith handle the comedy well, he also does well with the serious stuff. Although it is somewhat ham-fistedly written, Smith’s ability to control and display emotion brings out the best in some fairly poor dialogue later on in the film, such as the not-quite-classic “I gotta wonder what a kind of a bastard I must have been, that nobody was there to claim me. I mean, I am not the most charming guy in the world, so I’ve been told, but… nobody?” We knew from his performances in Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, and the equally film-of-two-halves I Am Legend that he was capable of busting some serious acting chops, but I always find it surprising to see the Fresh Prince breaking out the emotion.
Unfortunately, this film should not have been about emotion. Instead, it should have been about a pissed-off superhero being a pissed-off superhero and pissing off everyone else. If the script had stuck to its initial promise and delivered the redemption story that I, and I assume many others, was hoping for, this could have been a very good film. Instead it is a mediocre film, and will always be remembered, if at all, for how much of a letdown it was after the buzz that originally surrounded it. A massive disappointment, but still, somehow, a decent movie. Short enough to hold the attention of the youngest or oldest viewer, but long enough that you aren’t left wanting more (quite a feat at 88 minutes), this is worth a watch, but don’t get your hopes up too much.