The studio tried to market it first as a semi-satirical movie about an "unconventional superhero," highlighting it's more humorous elements. (See those trailers here and here.) To me, this was a smart move, making it feel offbeat and different from a typical action movie. But in the few weeks leading up to the movie's release, the tone of the marketing changed, making it look like a typical action movie-by-numbers. (See what I mean here.)
I found the movie to be interesting and entertaining, but ultimately a little frustrating. If you haven't seen it or want to, I'm officially giving a SPOILER ALERT.
Here are some things I thought about the movie:
- Will Smith has grown on me, because he's shed his Independence Day/Bad Boys/Men in Black "I'm a cool guy" persona and actually found some range and depth to his characters. He plays characters now that are flawed and three-dimensional. It's sometimes hard to forget that he's Will Smith (he doesn't disappear into his characters like, say Tom Hanks or Russell Crowe, for example), but at least we're not aware of it every second of every frame. I still wish he would have just kept calling himself The Fresh Prince, though.
- Jason Bateman rules. He could play that same stammering everyman character for the rest of his life and I'd be fine with it. He is a bit of a sap in Hancock, but he adds the right amount of comic relief.
Okay, so my issues with the movie itself. First the good stuff:
- I like the way that the movie combines the worlds of fantasy and reality in the first half of the film. Hancock is a superhero, but he causes more damage than he prevents. He is unpopular because he is sloppy and uncaring. The sort of sweeping superhero stuff is undercut by a lot of missteps on his part (breaking things that don't need to be broken, creating craters every time he lands, being kind of a dick). The handheld parts of the movie make it feel more real, as if this kind of thing could really happen.
- For the most part, the comedy works. Since he is ostensibly invincible, Hancock himself can pretty much do what he wants, so he is arrogant, confrontational and ruthless. He doesn't make excuses for his behavior, he just justifies it. After he's saved a life, a female bystander says "I can smell the alcohol on your breath!" to which Hancock replies, "'Cause I been drinkin', bitch!" That attitude makes Hancock repellent to the characters in the movie, but endearing to the moviegoing audience.
Now the not-so-great stuff
- There is too much backstory about Hancock's life. I don't mean that they spend too much time on it, because they really don't, but the appeal of the Hancock character is that he's a sort of anarchist ne'er-do-well. By trying to explain his past and psychoanalyze him, it detracts from that detached manner that made him such a compelling character in the first place.
- There is a major shift in tone a little more than halfway through the movie. It goes from this offbeat superhero character study to a very standard, very typical superhero/action movie. The action itself is fine, but it's very rote. There is nothing new to see here. The humor almost goes completely away, and the lighthearted nature of the first half of the movie becomes one of darkness and despair.
It feels like a cop-out, as if the writer/director didn't know how to end it, or how to continue the same satirical note for the entire movie, and eventually gave up and said, "Screw it, let's just have shit blow up."
[An aside: As far as cop-outs in movies go, I have two favorites: the one at the end of M.Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, where we see title cards showing the fate of the two characters we had just spent two hours trying to find out about ("Samuel L. Jackson was sent to a prison for the criminally insane!!!!!!!!"); and the climax of Soul Food, where instead of the family at the dinner table having it out and the writer/director having to create a compelling resolution-through-dialogue, there is the scare of a house-fire -- which interrupts the seething tension -- and teaches us the trite lesson that "Wow, aren't we all so lucky that we have each other? And isn't that more important than all this bickering?" Come to think of it, the resolution in Ron Howard's EdTV -- writen by hacks-extraordinare Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel -- decides to settle its philosophical issues of privacy and the nature of fame with an erectile dysfunction joke. Hancock doesn't come close to that level of disappointment, but the laziness is there.]
- Hancock's major enemy toward the end is a character who had a very small amount of screen time in the film -- and in an incompetent caper at that -- and then decides to exact revenge in a scene that came right out of Plot Convenience Theater. It did not grow organically from the story, but was rather set up to provide a de facto villain to Hancock. Unfortunately, the villain (named Red) is not compelling enough to provide for a satisfying conclusion; he is not a villain worthy of Hancock. It was a wasted opportunity to establish maybe a villain early on, maybe with some background between the two, and then have it pay off at the end.
Anyway, the movie is fun and worth a look, and although the movie doesn't make good on its promise of the exploration of a superhero in a postmodern framework, it was plently likeable.