July 7, 2008

Movie Review: Hancock

The past decade has seen the cinematic landscape littered with superhero films. Among those many films have been classics and the requisite bad ones. However, what we do not get all that often are superhero films that have not been sourced from comic books. Off the top of my head, the only ones I can recall are My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Unbreakable and The Incredibles. I am sure there may be others, but I cannot recall any other titles. Now I can add another title to that list, Hancock.

As the release approached and reviews began to trickle out, the consensus did not appear to be all that good. Of course, I did not read any of the reviews (didn't want to be spoiled). So, off I went, hoping for the best, but honestly not expecting too much. What did I see? A movie that was ultimately entertaining and worth checking out , however felt overly edited and almost like two movies smashed into one. It is like they had two films worth of material but only one film in which to use it.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Hancock the same way we were introduced in the trailer, a sleeping, drunken Will Smith on a street bench. This is not the same Smith we saw this past December in I Am Legend, this is not a scientist searching desperately for a cure to save humanity while battling these changed people to survive. Oh no, this Will Smith is a drunken "superhero" who staggers into action with little regard for public safety, causes more damage than the bad guys were, and hangs around afterward to listen to the jeers from witnesses. In other words, he is an @$$hole.

Enter Ray (Jason Bateman). Ray is in Public Relations and his desire to make a change in the world doesn't go over well with potential clients when they here that they would need to give product away for free. While a deflated Ray heads home to have dinner with his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and son, Aaron (Jae Head), he is "rescued" by Hancock. This meeting would prove to be a life changing one for the two of them. Ray sees something in Hancock, a sadness, a desire to be accepted, plus a way that he can help his own career. Do you see where this is going?

Ahh, I see that you do. Ray takes on the role of changing people's perception of Hancock. Things like being respectful to others property, being a little smarter in the approach to saving lives, and telling police and others they are doing a good job. This is a task that Ray loves and Hancock is a little more leery of.

As public perceptions change, something else changes in the story. I dare not tell you what it is, as it is a pretty big turning point for a few of those involved and to tell you would give away just too much.

Hancock is a good movie, definitely flawed and incomplete, but it still offers something a little different to the genre. We finally get a superhero whose actions have repercussions. How often have you watched a hero destroy buildings, cars, and other property on his way to "saving" the day?

The character of Hancock is portrayed in a considerably different manner than how other heroes have been portrayed. Will Smith does a fine job of making Hancock a contemptible character and then developing that into someone we can feel sympathy for. Despite the drinking and destructive nature, there is something beneath that is crying for help. This is a facet seen by Jason Bateman's Ray, a guy who seems to have blinders on to a lot around him, but sees the Hancock beneath the surface. To that end, Bateman does a good job of playing the straight man. His full talents are not completely utilized, but he does a fine job in the role. Finishing our trio of leads is the lovely Charlize Theron as Mary. She adds a whole different dimension to the story, although the charged glances between her and Hancock did get to be a bit much.

As interesting as the story was in the first half, and as different a take on superheroes as this is, it is far from perfect and comes nowhere near the heights that it could have reached. The film has two distinct halves that do not mesh all that well and ultimately drag the overall quality down. The first half has interesting character study aspects mixed with over the top violence, while the second half tries to explain a lot more than it really needs to and not doing a very good job of it. The narrative flow dissolves into a nearly incomprehensible mess by the time the credits role. I know it left me wondering just what happened. Perhaps an extended cut will fill in the holes? It certainly seemed to be missing enough footage.

Bottomline. I liked Hancock. Even with all of its flaws and shortcomings I found myself enjoying it. It is a decidedly different take on superheroes and opens up the possibilities for future outings. The film is held back by a confusion of what it wants to be, dragging the film from possible excellence into the merely entertaining and occasionally mediocre.



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