Hancock (2008)

Hancock has many points where it’s well worth watching, and a few others were it falls really short. The parts that are good deal with flipping the stereotypical good guy superhero on its head, while the negatives come from inconsistent characters and the fact that, with a superhero movie, there is no real bad guy. That’s inexcusable in this type of film.

The story begins with a hungover John Hancock (Will Smith) waking up on a city bench, presumably after a night of heavy drinking. He gets up after a kid insults him, and then decides to go for a little sight-seeing tour — by flying Neo-style through the city. He lands in the car of some burglars, who shoot at him, before he takes their car and subsequently cause damage to a few city buildings. The news report claims that over $9 million dollars in damages were caused by his latest shenanigans. This is apparently a new personal best.

Enter into the picture Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), who is a public relations spokesperson. He’s caught in traffic, and ends up on train tracks with a train approaching. The door’s handle is broken, and he can’t escape. Hancock drops in and saves him, although he causes damage to a few cars, unnecessarily, and smells of booze. But he still saved Ray’s life, so Ray decides to try to turn Hancock’s life around, turning him from a drunk, barely functioning, disliked superhero into an upstanding citizen. Okay, I’ve heard crazier ideas before. He does this with a two-week prison sentence though, and at point, Hancock gets all better. Well, that was easy.

At this point, we’ve almost hit the one hour mark, and the only conflict has come from Hancock being a stubborn person and not wanting to give in to the public’s demand. So we need something else to keep us interested. Well, once our main character has been released from prison, (crime rates rise by over 30% in the first five days that he’s in there), he begins to lose his invulnerability. He can still fly and still has superhuman strength, but he can be bruised, or eventually, shot.

The reason for this comes in the form of a plot twist, meaning I can’t tell you it. However, I can say that it’s an effective, if not completely arbitrary twist that comes from out of nowhere mostly because it doesn’t make all that much sense. At least, not at first. After it’s explained directly to us, we can kind of get behind the reasoning, although it would make a lot more sense if there was some mention or hint earlier. Hancock has no memory before 80 years ago, and the reason comes from something in his past. I’ll give you one hint: He’s not the only one of his kind.

The main problem that Hancock has is that it stuff a lot of content into its short runtime, but then forgets to include one of the most important elements of a superhero film: The villain. It tries to give us a deep character study, a fun action hero film, and a comedy. It doesn’t become a success in any of these areas, while the final film only ends up being okay, but not the great film that you would hope for.

To be a character study, you need to have characters that are both relatable and consistent. We get the first part down, with the super-being Hancock dealing with normal people issues. But he doesn’t stay in character, or at least, what we’d expect from him. He gets turned around far too easily by the simplest of actions, leading me to wonder if he actually suffers from some sort of multiple personality disorder. He goes from being a jerk to being a super nice guy to being somewhere in between incredibly quickly, which makes it hard for him to be a character we can watch for depth. And then there’s those looks that he and Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), share, which serve in an attempt to create some tension between Ray and Hancock, but don’t actually. Instead, Bateman gives Will Smith a couple of nasty looks, but that’s all that ever leads to.

In terms of being an awesome superhero film, it also fails. The action scenes aren’t all that exciting, mostly because of how powered-up our lead is. He’s invulnerable, can fly, has superhuman strength, and doesn’t age. He’s effectively perfect, meaning we’ll always know who is going to win. But when he does become mortal, there’s no big bad guy to take him down, because that part of the story was forgotten about. Instead, we get a bank robber.

The comedy aspects of the film actually end up working the best, although they’re too spread out to make a big impact. But I did laugh at points when the film was clearly trying to make a joke, so consider that part a success, I suppose. But then again, laughing at the drunk ramblings of an alcoholic is kind of sick, isn’t it?

The special effects, when used, aren’t all that impressive either. The flying feels unnatural, and it’s very clear that Will Smith was in front of a green screen when it was happening. Luckily, we don’t watch Hancock fly all that often, and after he becomes grounded, the special effects serve their purpose just fine. It’s most apparent in the first five minutes of the film, which is actually for the best, because we’re not involved enough for bad effects to take us out of the experience.

Despite the fact that it doesn’t ever completely come together, I still had a good enough time with Hancock. It had enough going for it to make it watchable, despite the fact that its individual elements were very lacking. It feels inconsistently paced and put together, but as a story about a man who needs to do some growing up, it was good enough to entertain me.

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