The blockbuster success of comic-book movie adaptations over the past few years has prompted seemingly everyone in the movie industry to try to get their fingers into that lucrative, superhero pie.
Lately, the movie-going public has been subjected to mostly awful origin stories – often of characters obscure to all but the most dedicated comic reader – and redundant remakes that are tiring even the teenage-boy demographic.
So I was excited at the idea of a movie that would subvert the typical norms of the genre, and not resort to all-out parody like the absolutely useless Superhero Movie. Hancock attempts to do just that, presenting an indestructible hero (played by Will Smith) who, tired of endlessly saving lives, has become a drunken, belligerent PR nightmare.
Enter Ray Embrey, (Jason Bateman) a bleeding-heart public relations officer who, after a chance encounter with the superhero, decides to help clean up Hancock’s public persona. Our very own Charlize Theron plays the role of Ray’s innocent, doting wife, Mary, who dislikes the fallen hero from his first booze-soaked visit to the couple’s house.
It’s an intriguing premise, especially considering how it humorously deals with the never-before-answered question of how superheroes get away with such obscene amounts of collateral damage, but the already limited laughs only last for the first half of the movie. The second reel presents a complete tonal shift, both in terms of plot and style, with the film turning into a romantic tragedy that feels like a different movie altogether.
Director Peter Berg succeeds in piercing Will Smith’s usually squeaky-clean image and gets an initial performance out of the superstar that is hilariously surly. To paint the painfully charismatic star as horribly unlikeable was quite a task, and it is here that the film succeeds. We’re treated to several amusing sequences that show Hancock’s apathetic crime-fighting, societal contempt and general ineptitude, and it’s clear as to why the masses hate him for his actions, even though he always gets the job done.
Bateman always provides a subtle charm in his performances, and this role is no exception. His rapport with Will Smith is one of the highlights of the movie, and his romance with Charlize is believable, especially to those who saw the two collaborate so brilliantly on Arrested Development.
The film is supposed to focus mainly on Hancock’s redemption, but this ‘transformation’ happens all too quickly, with the hero adored by the city after a single competent act. Suddenly, after receiving a little well-deserved respect, Hancock instantly gains a sense of self-worth and becomes the ‘nice guy’ that Ray wanted him to be.
This may or may not have been a clever poke at the fickle nature of the American public, or it may have been a comment on the power of media representation, but ultimately these jabs cost the titular character his charm and the movie its credibility.
The film’s degradation continues mainly due to the highly unnecessary ‘twist’ that is the cause of several characters abruptly developing entirely new personalities.
Mary’s girl-next-door image is shattered as she miraculously becomes the femme fatale (complete with thick eye-liner), and Hancock’s transformation into valiant knight is all too instantaneous. Ray, who appeared to be one of the main characters, is completely underused in the second half, with Bateman looking out of place among the (admittedly quite fantastic) action sequences and contrived plot exposition.
The twist is also the cut-off point where the movie ceases to be a comedy and turns into a melodrama, with a hokey origin story crammed into about five lines of dialogue, and acting that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Add some gaping plot-holes and one villain with pathetically weak motivation, and you’re left wondering what the producers were thinking when they accepted this final script.
It’s obvious that the film’s real problems were caused by a case of too-many-cooks; as Hancock was stuck in development hell for over ten years, with several writers, directors and producers providing input that ultimately led to this incredibly conflicted story.
For a pop-corn munching, summer action-flick, you could do a lot worse than the first half of Hancock, but it’s the ridiculous plot of the last 35 minutes that will disappoint most audiences. The obvious plot inconsistencies and complete change of style in the second half had me wondering if the movie’s original direction would not have been better than the mish-mash of story elements that we ultimately received.