Hancock is unlike any other superhero. The Hulk, Batman and Daredevil all have serious personal issues but none have the PR problems that plague Hancock. When stopping crime and thwarting the bad guys the Los Angeles based superhero usually does more harm than good—the price tag for one rescue reaches 9 million dollars after he rips up streets, and damages buildings. He’s hated by the very people he tries to protect, and on top of it all suffers from alcoholism, anger issues, amnesia and very low self esteem. Dr. Phil would have a field day with this guy.
He’s anything but mild mannered. When we first meet Hancock (Will Smith) he’s passed out drunk on a bus shelter bench while a major crime takes place nearby. Awoken by a child who asks him to help, he sneers, rubs his unshaven face and tries to wrap his alcohol addled brain around the situation. After an orgy of destruction that sees the bad guys deposited atop the Capitol Records building, Hancock is criticized by everyone from politicians to television talking head Nancy Grace who says that he has no regard for anyone other than himself. When he saves the life of a big-hearted PR flack (Jason Bateman) Hancock is set on the road to career rehabilitation.
That’s just the first forty-five minutes. It’s jokey, action packed and essentially what you see in the trailer. It’s in the second half that Hancock deepens, becoming one of the very few superhero origin stories not to have originated in a comic book that actually works. I can’t give you any details without giving away some major spoilers and ruining the fun, but rest assured, director Peter Berg makes sure there is a good action to story ratio as the movie takes several unexpected turns.
In the lead role Will Smith is up to the task of adapting to the film’s ever changing demands, effortlessly shifting gears from the light tone established early on to the darker mid section and the mythic romance of the coda. He draws on his natural charisma and charm, infusing Hancock with highlights from his past films. There’s a dash of Men in Black’s wonky humor, a glimpse of his action hero of Independence Day, and a taste of Enemy of the State’s troubled paranoiac. Best of all there is absolutely nothing that echoes Wild Wild West.
Jason Bateman makes the best of a thankless role that could easily have been overpowered by Smith’s flashier part. Ditto Charlize Theron who takes the role of the love interest and makes it something memorable.
My major complaint is with director Berg. Buy a steady cam! Or at least a tripod! His love of wobbly cam work reaches new heights here. If you suffer from motion sickness I recommend popping a couple of Gravols before the screening.
The script, originally titled Tonight, He Comes, made the rounds in Hollywood for a decade before star Smith and director Berg came on board, bringing this strange and surprising story to the screen. An unusual mix of humor, romance and dark subject matter Hancock stands apart from other superhero movies by daring to be different.