© 2008 Ray Wong
Have enough superhero movies this year yet? Probably not, or else Hollywood wouldn't be lining up everything from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy, to Batman for this summer. And now Will Smith is joining the ranks as Hancock, the most unlikely superhero of all times.
John Hancock (Will Smith) is a drunk living in a remote trailer somewhere in Los Angeles. He's rude, obnoxious, and simply indifferent to everyone around him. And people hate him. The funny thing is, he also has some kind of superpowers. The ability to fly, super strength, invincibility... that sort of things. While Hancock will step in and help people and the cops in case of emergencies or crime, he does it in a way that just makes people not want his help -- such as millions of dollars of damages and putting innocent people in harm's way.
After Hancock saves Ray Embrey's (Jason Bateman) life, he's intrigued by Ray's proposal. You see, Ray is a public relationship consultant who has a "save-the-world" complex. He wants to make Hancock a real superhero, someone everybody would look up to. All Hancock needs is a little push in the right direction, some new clothes and attitudes. Oh, and a stint as an inmate. Reluctantly Hancock follows his advice, while still trying to figure out who he is and why there's only one of him in the whole wide world.
Ray's effort pays off, even to his wife Mary's (Charlize Theron) disapproval. As Hancock slowly regains his respectability, he also starts to figure out his history and he realizes Mary plays a key role.
Will Smith (I Am Legend) is super cool as Hancock, a downtrodden man with immense powers. A reluctant hero, Smith portrays Hancock with sensitivity, depth and humor. Granted, this is far from being an Oscar-caliber performance, but Smith does a commendable job and demands attention with the film resting heavily on his shoulders.
Charlize Theron (In the Valley of Elah) is also very good as the conflicted housewife. Appropriately gorgeous and approachable at the same time, Theron gives the film a needed soft side (even though her character is not entirely soft, as we find out). Jason Bateman (Juno) has the most amiable character in the film. Very likable, but perhaps a bit bland in comparison with Smith or Theron. And Jae Head (Friday Night Lights) is fine as Ray's son and Hancock's number one fan, Aaron.
Written by TV writers Vincent Ngo (Fearless) and Vince Gilligan (The X-Files), the script is unfortunately unfocused and somewhat schizophrenic. The first half of the film has a overwhelmingly comedic tone to it. And it is funny. Hancock's character is well-drawn and he delivers in some hilarious scenes. It sounds like a very unusual superhero story... until midway into the film when the writers switch gears. It takes on a much more somber, serious and introspective tone, as Hancock goes through a 12-steps type rehabilitation while asking "who am I?"
Then the last third of the movie turns into a tried and true action flick, except there isn't really any specific villain for us to root against. There are villains, of course, but they're very secondary. As Hancock's history is revealed, we're reminded of many other stories including X-Men, Highlander, and Unbreakable even down to the climactic scene complete with a lot of water and slow-motion shots. What's disappointing is that Hancock starts out as a rather original take on the genre, but eventually turns into a familiar blend of past movies.
The direction under Peter Berg (The Kingdom) reflects that unfocused nature of the script. The first two acts are relatively fast-paced. The tone is decidedly lighter and the plot unfolds smoothly. During the final act, however, the drama becomes heavy, and so does the pace. The action is further bogged down with melodrama and exposition.
Don't get me wrong. Hancock is entertaining and Will Smith delivers once again. But the film feels like two different movies stuck together. It could have been a much stronger film had the writers and director thought it through. As is, the film is rather half-cocked.
Stars: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Jae Head, Eddie Marsan, David Mattey
Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence; language
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.1 out of 10