There is a scene in Will Smith’s latest blockbuster, where the film’s misunderstood superhero threatens to insert a prison inmate’s head up another inmate’s … well, back entrance. That he does it is no surprise, as we’ve already spent half-an-hour in this foul-mouthed, unhinged, alcoholic hero’s presence. It’s that director Peter Berg feels the need to SHOW it that truly left me unsettled. I don’t know what to tell you except, yes, it looks exactly as you would imagine. Strangely, that scene is this film in a nutshell: Funny, exciting and full of new ideas. But then we see too much, and it becomes tragic, and oddly haunting.
I think I’ve started this review wrong – however, this is a very difficult film to talk about. It is not the goofball superhero comedy implied by the trailer; well certainly not after the first half hour. To truly look at what is wrong and what is right with this movie would mean spoiling the (for lack of a better word) “twist” that comes halfway through, and I’m not willing to do that.
Anyway, Smith plays John Hancock, a Los Angeles vagrant with amazing superpowers. Although he wants to help people, he leaves a greater trail of destruction than any criminal could attempt to imagine. Then he saves the life of Ray Embrey (Bateman), a bleeding-heart PR man who wants to reinvent Hancock’s image and remind L.A. how lucky they are to have their very own superhero. Eventually, Hancock meet’s Ray’s wife Mary (Theron), and she DEFINITELY doesn’t want him around.
And then the film takes a major left turn from which it never returns. Whether you enjoy this movie or not will depend on how willing you are to follow the major plot developments in the third act. I, for one, was willing to accept the plot shift, although I would not be surprised if many others don’t. I have a sad feeling that Hancock, the story of the misunderstood and hated hero, will become the misunderstood and hated film of 2008.
The cast is certainly not to blame. Smith is probably the most bankable star in Hollywood right now, and he never phones it in. He gives a nuanced performance as John Hancock, just as he did in I Am Legend last year. Jason Bateman is given a part slightly closer to that leading man role he really deserves, and Charlize Theron is fine, despite her sorely underwritten character.
The script is surprisingly good considering the usual thoughtless superhero fodder. Originally written in 1996 by Vy Vincent Ngo under the title Tonight, He Comes, the film has been through countless rewrites and re-edits to the final version we’ve got today. Considering this, it’s no surprise the ending lacks cohesion – but as a whole, it holds up surprisingly well.
The problem is unfortunately with director Peter Berg, who filmed this straight after making The Kingdom … and it shows. The uncomfortable close-ups, the odd shifts in tone – he carries these flaws like calling cards, constantly reminding us whenever the film falls flat, that he is directly to blame.
But I’m not going to hate on the movie anymore, because I’m sure the internet will be flooded with anti-Hancock sentiment over the next few weeks. The truth is, I really liked this movie, despite its obvious problems. I guess it was just nice to see a film that didn’t try to be like anything else, and really shot for the stars. Even though it failed, you’ve still got to admire the despised superhero who still tries to save the world.
And if you’re still not willing to forgive Hancock, and least there is the scene where he shoves a guy’s head up another guy’s butt.