Director Peter Berg wants Will Smith’s Hancock to be the anti-Superman. Hancock is lewd, sloppy, and doesn’t have an inkling of charismatic ability, too bad he’s played by… Will Smith, one of the most charismatic and recognizable faces in the world.
In all honesty Smith, in perhaps his nastiest role, does a reliably good job playing a superhero that would rather sleep off a hangover on a street bench than save the citizens of L.A. by using his awesome, invincible power. The first act of the film is hilarious with equal doses of decent special effects. Smith, whiskey bottle in hand, takes constant berating from the people he saves, only to bark profanities right back at them. (The best line of the movie is Hancock explaining to a man why he should sue McDonald’s.)
Where most summer blockbusters stay clear of aftermath explanation, Hancock develops its lead character by showing how society views him. TV journalists bitch about how Hancock keeps wrecking the city, how he is costing the government millions of dollars. People, in short, are taking the superhero for granted.
In comes wannbe PR genius Jason Bateman, who offers Hancock his services in reshaping his public image. Bateman, always reliable in his restrained humor, introduces Hancock to his family, thus beginning the second act, and thus beginning the downfall of the film. When Smith meets Bateman’s wife, as played by Charlize Theron, she gives Smith a look. Then another, then another. Berg really wants you to get the point that these two know each other, so why doesn’t Hancock say something?
In finding out their past, the film takes a baffling turn. Very, “where the hell did that come from?” My guess is it will throw most viewers off to the point of not caring anymore.
The problem with most superhero movies (please exclude Iron Man and Christopher Nolan’s exquisite new take on the Batman franchise) is that they treat the audience like idiots. True, most of us our there to the entertained, but some of us would like to know who Hancock is and how he got to be that way. No explanation is offered because it is obvious that the film so desperately wants a sequel. That will be up to how many people see it, and how many people care enough to tell their friends about it.
I should note that one of the things that initially turned me on to Hancock was its absence of denial from the regular people in the film. It is refreshing to be thrown into the middle of a story (everyone already knows who Hancock is and what he is capable of, there are no exhausting, “figuring out” scenes.) But this trait was soon the film’s downfall, as when Bateman figures out the story behind Hancock and his wife and takes it very, very easily. A little denial would’ve not only been fair, it would’ve been accurate. C+