The Good: Concept, Beginning, Moments of humor/drama
The Bad: Very erratic in pacing, Mediocre acting, Seems unsure what it wants to be
The Basics: When John Hancock struggles to change his reputation and image to that of a super hero, he finds his lack of memory a liability in this disappointing movie.
You know it's summer when Will Smith's yearly blockbuster rears its heads in theaters. Ever since Independence Day, it seems Smith appears in one big summer movie. In 2008, the film was Hancock and if nothing else, it illustrates that no actor gets a perfect batting average. Unlike previous summer successes, Hancock takes a concept that is different and good and even intriguing and utterly fails to make the premise work.
In a summer dominated by action-adventure superhero movies and sequels, Hancock puts a familiar actor in a more edgy role. Were it not Will Smith heading the cast, the concept and level of special effects - significantly smaller in the effects department than one might expect, especially given the previews - are more appropriate to an art house film than a summer blockbuster. Hancock is, in some ways, most analogous to Unbreakable (reviewed here!) as a more sublime super hero movie that does not entirely fit the mold.
John Hancock is living as a derelict and drunk on the streets of Los Angeles when he saves Ray Embrey from an untimely death from a train. Eager to repay the favor, Ray tries to change the public image of Hancock, who has incredible abilities like super strength, the ability to fly and the ability to survive massive objects colliding with him at fast velocities. Ray is an advertising executive and is eager to take on Hancock's reputation. Among those on the other side is Ray's wife, who is resistant to the idea that Hancock can be made better in the public eye given all of the damage he has done in the past.
Soon, though, a villain arises; a man who Hancock wounded fairly badly and now thirsts for revenge. Hancock, though, finds himself and his powers weakened and he must discover both how to be more likable and why his powers are being sapped. In his attempt to recover his memory - if for no other reason that to figure out why there are so many lawsuits against him - Hancock finds himself in the company of Ray's wife, Mary, a woman who clearly knows more about Hancock than she lets on.
Hancock has a decent and ambitious concept. A superhero suffering from amnesia is not quite new; indeed, it was done remarkably effectively with Dark City (reviewed here!) and that film told a similar story of a hero in the process of becoming. What Hancock lacks that Dark City had - other than massive amounts of style and film noir cinematography - is a credible and intriguing villain.
Moreover, Hancock never quite knows what it wants to be. It starts out as a movie filled with humor, which Will Smith illustrates his ability to get out just fine. He makes quips that are funny and ironic and darkly humorous. In the beginning, it works and it sets the movie viewer up for a very different type of film than what comes next. After about half an hour of trudging through humor and seeing Hancock as something more of a buffoon than a fallen hero, the movie begins to turn.
What Hancock becomes is much darker, then. As Hancock begins to feel diminished and he works with the Embreys to fix his reputation, he struggles with his lack of memory. With the appearance of the villain - who is fairly generic in his rage at Hancock, despite the fact that Hancock had torn off his hands - Hancock's struggle becomes more violent and a bit darker.
The essential problem with Hancock is that the character is not just unlikable because he is unlikable, he is unlikable because he seems very arbitrary and random. In indifferent superhero is one thing; an indifferent superhero who devolves into a complete jerk . . . is not terribly satisfying. When the answers come in the movie, they are hardly worth the wait. Instead, the viewer ultimately feels somewhat cheated because the answers are pulled from the same poorly explained unreal world that the initial characterization is.
Traditionally, in movies like this, the superhero is good and kind and responsible and has at their core a morality that seeks to use their power responsibly. In those same movies with that archetype, characters who are lazy, irresponsible, reckless and/or indifferent tend to be the villains. Hancock could have worked as a perfectly good "root for the villain" story, save that it never becomes ambitious enough to truly turn society against Hancock in a way that makes him at all empathetic. He is a jerk, people treat him like he is a jerk. Appropriately, when he starts to reform, not all is forgiven and he actually has to work to be a better person.
But then it devolves out of the character study into a combat, "let's give all the answers" last part that leaves the viewer disappointed and wondering what happened to the ambition and concept of the opening half. After all, the only thing less satisfying than not having questions answered in a movie has to be when the answers are worse than the mystery and that latter direction is the one Hancock goes in.
The acting works as well as it can given the characters that the performers are forced to play. Jason Bateman, whom I last saw typecast in the wonderful film Juno, actually has the chance to act in Hancock. Instead of delivering his lines with the subtle wit that has defined his performances since Arrested Development, he actually takes on a more serious and level manner that works as a wonderful foil to the sometimes ridiculous nature of Hancock.
Similarly, Charlize Theron's turn as Mary is more plagued by the director making the allusions obvious and pointed as opposed to any problem with her performance. She and Bateman have as good of chemistry as can work for where the plot and character developments take the movie.
But, it is up to Will Smith to sell Hancock and, unfortunately, this is not his finest outing. He does well in the scenes where Hancock seems like he is having fun, but the more tortured moments come out with surprisingly little gravitas for Smith. Instead, there's too much Smith and swagger in the scenes where Hancock is supposedly lost and he's never fully convincing when the character is down and out.
As a result, Hancock is - at best - a popcorn flick that will entertain those who have already seen Get Smart (reviewed here!) three or four times and who want something different. But for adding to the Will Smith resume of Summer Successes . . . Hancock is not going to make the list.
For other works with Elizabeth Dennehy, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II”
“The Best Of Both Worlds”
For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |