It's Not Easy Being a Superhero
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 07/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Berg's "Hancock" puts a refreshing new spin on the superhero genre by keeping a majority of the conflict within. The title character fights his share of bad guys, but it's his own struggle for identity that takes center stage, a struggle that would be relatable were it not for his super-strength powers. As a man who can't remember his real name or even where he came from, Hancock may actually be worse off than Bruce Wayne; despite emotional scarring from a painful past, at least he's always known who he is. Hancock has been given powers without knowing why, and because of that, he has no idea how to use them. He's the superhero no one wants to be saved by, a lonely, miserable, self-destructive man who can't get along with anyone. As the film progresses, we wait for that climactic moment when this character is finally given the chance to redeem himself.
As interesting as this character is, "Hancock" is not everything it could have been. This is mostly due to a gigantic plot twist that I wouldn't dream of describing, not even in vague terms. All I can say is that it's outlandish, implausible, and underdeveloped, not what one would expect from a small scale, character driven superhero film. Strangely enough, it feels the most like a comic book when the secret is revealed, which would have been fine if the entire film had gone in the same direction. But it didn't; "Hancock" starts off subtly by satirizing the very concept of superheroes, from the way the act to how they look to why they're compelled to save the day in the first place. The film opens with a high-speed chase on a Los Angeles highway, one that involves heavy gunfire. Hancock (Will Smith) doesn't know what's going on because he's passed out on a sidewalk bench, drunk as a skunk; a boy no older than six has to wake him up and tell him that the bad guys are getting away.
We quickly learn that, while Hancock has stopped a fair number of violent criminals, he still does a lot more harm than good. Whenever he flies, his takeoffs and landings leave gaping holes in the concrete. He damages buildings and destroys cars. He's provoked far too easily, especially when he's being called a specific dirty name. He drinks far too much. He's antisocial, apathetic, and angry, not helped by the fact that no one praises him for the lowered crime rate. Then he saves the life of Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a down-on-his-luck public relations professional; to show his gratitude, he decides to help Hancock reestablish his image. The first step is responding to an outstanding arrest warrant and actually spending time in jail. Ray believes this will give the impression that Hancock is willing to improve. He also believes that, since the crime rate will increase, Hancock will be released much earlier than usual.
I won't get into the specifics of how long Hancock stays in jail and what happens in that time, but rest assured that he's eventually released and given a second chance. As he desperately tries to make sense of himself, Hancock gets closer to Ray and his family. The young son, Aaron (Jae Head), almost treats Hancock like his best friend, always so excited around him, always wanting to share toys and talk about trivial things. The wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), is always suspicious around Hancock; she's distant, cold, and short-winded whenever he's near her. I won't say whether or not there's a reason for this, but I will say that by the time everything is explained, we're left with more questions than answers.
That's about as much of the plot I can describe without spoiling anything. The best I can say at this point is to go see the film and find out what I couldn't describe. "Hancock" is worth seeing, even if the plot strays from itself a few too many times. There's a moment when the city is attacked by freak weather (which includes snow and multiple tornadoes), and I couldn't help but believe it was only for the sake of showing cool visual effects. I suppose that could be interpreted as satire, since visual effects are the very heart and soul of the average superhero film. The thing is, "Hancock" is not average--it brings something original to the genre, something modern and lively and (to some extent) realistic. When you get your first look at Hancock, you see not a sterile do-gooder like Superman but a filthy vagrant, with all the sadness in the world swimming in his bloodshot eyes. He's just plain pathetic.
While Ray's goal is for Hancock to make peace with the public, the film's goal is for Hancock to make peace with himself. Even after tossing a young French bully hundreds of feet into the air and catching him just before he hits the ground, we sense that Hancock is more misunderstood than anything else. He's deeply flawed, but that doesn't mean he's unwilling to change. If the plot of "Hancock" were at the same developmental level as the main character, it would be one of the decade's most thought provoking superhero films, right up there with this year's "Iron Man." Unfortunately, it isn't; it loses itself to a crafty plot twist, and the explanations that go along with it are impossible to accept. Nevertheless, the inner struggle of the title character made this movie worthwhile, as did the special effects and the satirical manipulation of the superhero genre."
[3.5] Hancock is very uneven entertainment, but still enjoya
Steven Hedge | Somewhere "East of Eden" | 07/09/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This film seems to suffer from the "let's make fun of a genre and then actually strive to be that genre" duplicity which gives the movie a rather odd feel to it. It's still fun, but a rather weird trip.
The film starts off brilliantly with bad boy superhero, played to perfection by Will Smith, who is in need of a serious attitude adjustment. He is befriended by a public relations man, well-played by Jason Bateman, who has a wife, the gorgeous Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster, Mighty Joe Young, The Italian Job), that is less accepting or forgiving of Will's character. The film succeeds wonderfully for the first half of its 90 minute run until it suddenly starts to take itself seriously and strives to be the kind of film that it started out mocking. It quickly becomes less fun and far less funny at that point.
There is little one can say about the plot beyond what was not revealed in the previews without spoiling the second half of the film which was NOT revealed in any way in the previews. I'm not sure if that was done to "surprise" us somehow or because the producers knew that the second half just didn't fit with the first half of the film. It's not that the second half of the film is bad or not well acted or anything like that. The problem is the shift in focus. The film feels like it has a personality disorder or something.
I know with a five star system here people complain when a reviewer does the .5 bit like I did, but if there was ever a film that needed an in between rating, it's this one. It was better than good, three stars, but not quite excellent, which is four stars. Five stars is outstanding and it certainly wasn't that by any means. I had a great time with the first half, and just thought the second half belonged in another film.
I think most Smith fans will enjoy this light entertainment, but it will be an odd experience nevertheless."
Hancock is no Iron Man or Batman, but it's a fun ride
Monkdude | Hampton, Virginia | 07/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I really enjoyed the first half of the Hancock, when he had a bad attitude and some great lines. The film progressed into a typical superhero movie that was still fun, but lacked anything original. I'm not the biggest Will Smith fan, though I think he was the only actor for this role and it is one of my favorite Will Smith characters yet. Charlize Theron was cast to look good and she does, while Jason Bateman provides good and often funny support to Smith's Hancock. The CGI is very good throughout and there is even a couple of twists thrown in that might catch you off guard.
Hancock is a good summer flick that isn't in the same league as Iron Man or the greatness that will likely be The Dark Knight, but it is exactly what you would expect from Will "Summer Blockbuster" Smith.
3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars"
"Did you shove a man's head up another man's a--?"
H. Bala | Carson - hey, we have an IKEA store! - CA USA | 07/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sometimes you're worse off with the cure. Take Los Angeles, for instance, which boasts its own superhero. But this superhero is a misanthrope - a rude cuss, a woman-groper, and an everyday boozer. He dresses like homeless and saves lives like he's playing that Whack-the-Gopher game. In his crimefighting methods, he's not very careful or that sensitive to stuff around him. His disastrous heroics tend to cost the city millions of dollars in collateral damage, not to mention further endangering the Los Angelinos. No wonder then that Hancock isn't much appreciated. The kids don't even look up to this guy.
Hancock is an impenetrable jerk. He acts like he doesn't care much about anything (yet he keeps on saving lives, so we all know he actually does give a fig, somewhere deep inside). Things change for him when he saves a man, Ray Embrey, from death by train. Turns out Ray is a down-and-out publicity agent. To repay Hancock, he offers to revamp his public image. Surprisingly, Hancock takes him up on it.
I think we've all seen the trailers by now to know that, as part of his image rehabilitation, Hancock is convinced by Ray to turn himself in, when a warrant is issued for his arrest (based on Hancock's misconducts during his heroics). The thinking is that, with Hancock incarcerated, the crime rate will shoot up and then it's only a matter of time before the call goes out for Hancock to resume his thing. This happens, and Hancock emerges from prison a more polite, more couth superhero, clad in sleek leather threads, and cognizant of property values.
But that's only half the story. HANCOCK started out pretty much to form, raucous and punching holes in the superhero mythos. I had an amazingly good time during the first half of the film. But then things took a turn for the serious, as the film begins delving into existential stuff, as Hancock goes thru whatever one goes thru when there's only one of his kind. There's quite a bit more to John Hancock, so much more that the movie doesn't even really get into it. There's an explanation for his origin, and what an ambitious origin it is, too. His past history, we learn, is glorious and tragic and spans much longer than you'd think. There's a romance for Hancock, but it's one soaked in tragic underpinnings. The film's second half will make or break it for the moviegoers, as it goes very much against convention, strays off the safe path and onto a messier one.
I do like that HANCOCK doesn't go for the easy. As mentioned, I really enjoyed the first half, when it was all light and comic. When things took a darker turn, it startled me. Then I got curious as to where the picture would take me. Will Smith is truly one of the most bankable movie stars around, and I'll always watch whatever film he's in. HANCOCK offers up a Will Smith that we're not used to. This guy on screen is grumpy and mean and a hard drinker. Yet I liked John Hancock from the get-go, perhaps because this film was touted as a comedy (and I guess being grumpy and mean is allowed if in a comedic venue) and, more definitely, because it's Will Smith. But Smith can also act. I think that's been proven without a doubt. So he adds that extra layer of realism to his preposterous character. The other two leads are good, as well. Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron (who plays his wife) are very much key to driving the plot. And I defy you to not have your heart go out to Jason's character, who's truly a good guy at heart.
There are no mega-villains in HANCOCK (In fact, the main villain, if you can call him that, is a little weak). Surprisingly, the special effects aren't about to bowl anyone over (but they're not bad), and there's not as much superhero action as you'd like. There's much comedy gold in the first half (yes, including that initial prison scene as the inmates challenge Hancock), and lots of drama and angst and heartache in the second half. The film earns all of its PG-13 rating. I laughed myself silly in some places, and wondered about a lot of the stuff director Peter Berg and the writers were attempting. And, when all's said and done, I ended up liking the film. But it's up in the air whether you will."