Hancock is Will Smith’s newest film that attempts a needed twist on the superhero genre. A twist that works pretty well and Smith, unlike other contemporary stars like Tom Hanks, realizes that he can hold onto the dark side of his character without driving off audiences. Smith has figured out how to physically hold onto his characters, in his shoulders, his facial expressions, while maintaining all of the reasons why we like to watch him on screen. He’s not only a damn good actor, but he’s a smart one, unafraid to try new things and to fully commit to what’s happening on screen. Would Mr. Hanks throw out the F-bomb so casually to a crowd of people and still remain the most likable person on screen!?
But now let’s talk about Hancock, the movie and the character. A put upon anti-hero, the only one of his kind. He boozes and destroys things. He does what’s right only perhaps when he’s passing by or to get someone to stop nagging him, and even then it’s just kind of right. It’s hilarious and entertaining.
Jason Bateman is saved by Hancock (though I’m not sure how many trains actually pass through Los Angeles anymore – I’ve never seen them), and becomes his PR person. Great concept. And right away you get that there’s something going on with Bateman’s wife played by Charlize Theron. It provides a nice twist in the film later on.
But after that twist the film loses it’s footing a bit. The only thing that we have to pull us from the first half of the film to the second is a few awkward glances and not knowing Hancock’s past and the tension and story that’s been built is kind of released and the audience has nothing to hold onto.
***Minor Plot Spoiler in this next paragraph***
I dug the mythology that the writer’s tried to cram into the movie. But it amounted to too much cramming at points. The film tried to be two different stories and didn’t succeed at bringing them together. I think audiences would have understood and loved the movie just as much if we didn’t find out what Hancock was until a sequel. It would have allowed the filmmaker’s more time to invest in who Hancock is now. *****And would have given them more to do with his character in a second film if suddenly his powers started to disappear and he found out he was a guardian angel. Simplicity.*****
It would have also allowed them some time to create a far more threatening villain that didn’t stumble upon Hancock so conveniently in the final moments of the film. Now we can argue and say that’s not what this movie is about…but come on. Every good hero needs a villain just as bad.
Peter Berg the director makes all of this so flashy it almost seems like he wants us to overlook the films flaws. Keep the camera on Will and Charlize and we’ll be fine. And it almost works, until his directorial choices become so heavy handed that the card house starts wavering. If a film has done it’s job there’s no need for overcompensating with extreme slow motion close-ups of faces being drenched with water as they near death. If you care about the characters you don’t need to circle the camera around Will Smith as a new found superhero the extra 10 times. By artificially heightening the emotional moments of the film you only help identify the real flaws of the film itself. If Berg (a director who I like) had stepped back and let these abrasive moments speak for themselves, perhaps it would have been easier to overlook the plotting trip ups. Many of these same directorial tics appeared in Berg’s last film The Kingdom, hope it isn’t becoming a part of his repertoire.
By and by I did enjoy the gritty urban feel of the modern city (boy did they capture LA) and thought it helped amplify the timliness of the story and gave it the grounded, human quality that Smith works well with. And it’s what makes his final sacrifice that much more heartbreaking. If nothing else the filmmakers and creator of the comic book from which this is based, understand how lonely LA can feel.