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Review: Hancock (2008)

Hancock (2008)

Directed by: Peter Berg

Premise: Hancock (Will Smith) is a man with superpowers and a bad attitude, spending his days intoxicated and occasionally using his super human abilities to stop criminals and save civilians, but with clumsy and often destructive results. He teams with a public relations executive (Jason Bateman) to recast his public image and reshape his life. 

What Works: Hancock is a very different take on the superhero genre and a welcome addition to a summer movie season that is packed with comic book adaptations. The film follows a similar mold as Superman: The Movie, Batman Begins, and Iron Man, as it tracks Hancock’s growth into a hero, but this film differentiates itself from other films by adding a lot of humor, some of it crude, and giving the title character a lot of flaws. Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince” persona helped build his career in hits like Independence Day and Men in Black but it later came to hurt films like I, Robot where it wasn’t appropriate. Thankfully, Smith departs from his clean-cut cockiness for the role of Hancock and presents a character unlike anything else in his filmography. Smith is best known for his likeability and bankability but he has not yet been fully appreciated for his acting ability, which is considerable. Hancock gives Smith a chance to stretch his acting muscles a bit, much more than this kind of genre piece generally allows and it helps the film a lot in its transition into the final act. Hancock is smarter than the average superhero film. At several points, the film juxtaposes Hancock, a man with impressive superpowers who is unable to direct them to useful ends, with Jason Batman’s character, a public relations specialist pleading with corporate executives to use their power and influence for constructive purposes. This is sly and smart storytelling and the film sets up themes about heroism and gives both men the chance to grow.

What Doesn’t: The main problem facing the film is that once Hancock reforms himself he is a lot less interesting to watch. While the unshaven and inebriated Hancock is not a very effective hero, he is a lot of fun and quite different from other superheroes. The more Hancock rehabilitates himself, the more he resembles most other superheroes and thus loses his novelty. The other problem facing the film is its lack of a super villain. Although Hancock is mostly a foil to himself, he needs some challenge to really measure himself against and that never presents itself in this film. Hancock is similar to True Lies, which played on the spy genre in much the same way that Hancock plays on the superhero genre, but True Lies did it much better, balancing the micro and the macro storylines and connecting them together.

Bottom Line: Hancock is an ambitious film that poses some interesting ideas about heroism. Some of those ideas are half-baked and as an action-adventure, the film needs more work. It’s good but not great; at the very least Hancock is an interesting footnote in the contemporary wave of superhero films.

Episode: #196 (July 6, 2008)