Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Hancock is a summer movie--with all the connotations that come with that. It's big and bold and brassy but also broad and basic and a little brainless.

The real shame of it is that it comes with a potentially nifty conceit: Will Smith, as Hancock, is a boozy, anti-social, drifteresque superhero. It's a premise with promise, and the film, in the first half, even does a bit of fiddling with the tantalizing contradiction of being universally recognized as a city's superhero versus being universally overlooked as a member of the city's underclass.

Alas, it doesn't last. Smith's Hancock halfheartedly thwarts some criminals, drunkenly destroys some property, and then, fatefully, saves Jason Bateman from being hit by a train. In return, Bateman, a PR agent, offers to help rehabilitate Hancock's image. He suggests that Hancock voluntarily incarcerate himself until the citizens of Los Angeles need him again, at which point they'll embrace him with open arms. So he does. And they do.

A non-summer-blockbuster might have spent the whole movie unraveling the complexities involved in being entirely exceptional, yet still needing to have approval from the mediocre masses. But in this version of Hancock, this happens in a manner that's a bit too . . . uncomplicated. Smith's transformation doesn't seem to be all that difficult, and it's pretty much fully realized by the time the first 45 minutes of the movie are over. The filmmakers seem to have decided that that's all the introspection summer audiences could handle.

So, instead, we get The Twist. I will say this about The Twist: I didn't see it coming. If you want to remain similarly surprised, you'll do well to heed this:

******************SPOILER ALERT**************************

So, just as Hancock was rounding into a perfectly acceptable superhero--thanks to Jason Bateman's PR acumen--we find out *gasp* that Hancock is NOT, in fact, the only one of his kind. In fact, he's a member of a now nearly extinct race of superbeings, the only other surviving member of which is Jason Bateman's wife. (Man, what are the odds!)

Bateman's wife is played capably by Charlize Theron, but her shift from typical housewife to superbeing is too sudden and jarring to work. As Theron explains to Smith, she and he were "made" together, the result of which is that they're inexorably drawn to each other via some weird superanimal supermagnetism. But there's a drawback: The more time they spend together, the weaker their powers become. This is the sort of conceit that I might accept from a superhero universe with a bit more history to it, but in this 2-hour arc it felt a bit forced and hackneyed.

In any case, this all ends predictably, with Smith having to make the heart-rending decision to leave Theron in order to save her life. (Bateman, by the way, seems to be affected very little by all these proceedings. If I found out that, not only was my wife a superhero who could easily kick my ass, but that she has a superhero lover out there who could kick it as well . . . Well, I have to believe I wouldn't sleep very well at night.)

******************END OF SPOILERS**************************

In the end, Hancock is a interesting premise that somehow turns into an entirely forgettable experience. There's hardly any investment in the characters, which, unfortunately for the studio, somewhat negates their investment in high-priced special effects. The result is a movie provokes a "hmm," followed by a "huh?", followed by a rather weak: "oh." And that "oh" resonates to the tune of a -2.


Moshe Reuveni said...

I finally gave up and read the spoiler (despite not watching the film and despite intending to, eventually).
My question is: what's the big deal about having a wife that can easily kick your ass? Are you implying that gold medal awarded female martial artists should remain single?

[Disclaimer: Yes, the above comment is the product of yet another boring day at the office]

Dr. Worm said...

Having a wife that can kick your ass is one thing. Suddenly finding out that your wife can is quite another -- especially when you've been helping her open pickle jars all this time (as the film shows). That's just one level of it: It's not the ass-kicking, is the hiding-your-true-nature.

But what would make me lose sleep is if I found out that my wife had a secret long-lost lover who just happened to be a superhero. I'd feel fairly apprehensive about fighting for my love if knew that my rival could, for example, throw cars.