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Hancock: Great Concept, Good (but not Great) Movie

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageI’ll admit that going into Hancock, I had no idea what to expect beyond the concept of a misfit superhero that does as much harm as good fighting crime.  I can tell you that, having seen Hancock, this seems to me to be a movie that started out as a great concept – an action/comedy featuring a misfit superhero doing as much harm as good fighting crime – but somewhere along the way lost focus and never quite came together as a solid film.  However, judging from the screening audience I saw this with, Hancock is going to be successful.  The film delivers a few entertaining action sequences with some impressive special effects, and Will Smith as the title character garners laughs with visual gags and even more so with his own wit and charm.  I’m confident audiences are going to enjoy Hancock, but to correlate that prediction with its overall quality would be a little fallacious.

The film opens with scenes of a high-speed pursuit on a Los Angeles freeway intercut with a passed-out Hancock oblivious to the danger.  Even when roused by what appears to be a hero-worshiping kid, alerting him of the crime-in-progress, Hancock would rather sit back with a bottle of whiskey than get involved.  Think of him as the stubble-sporting, booze-guzzling, bar-frequenting horn-dog version of The Man of Steel that results from exposure to synthetic kryptonite in Superman III, you know, not just an asshole, but a super-asshole.  Hancock finally decides to “save the day,” and with whiskey bottle in hand he takes off to intercept the criminals.  I won’t get into all the details but after flying across the city with the criminals in tow and turning their SUV into something of a shishkebab, it is estimated that Hancock’s latest “heroic feat” will cost the city of Los Angeles $9 million, a new personal record for the misfit, would-be superhero.

All this changes when Hancock saves the life of Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a good-hearted PR rep fruitlessly trying to convince big corporations to be more charitable.  Ray decides to repay Hancock by fixing his public image and turning him into the superhero Ray believes Hancock wants to be and the city truly needs.  This process comprises much of the second act of the film, and it was probably my favorite part.  If the first act is a raucous introduction to Hancock and his shenanigans, the second is a much more somber character study of a Superman without Ma & Pa Kent, a Spider-Man without Uncle Ben & Aunt May, the X-Men without Charles Xavier.  It asks the question, what would it be like to have god-like powers but no positive, guiding influence?  The answer, as it is presented in the character of Hancock, is not an individual who becomes a diabolical villain with a vendetta against society, but a sympathetic individual who is lonely, depressed, and filled with resentment for the public that he wants so badly to accept and adore him as a hero, but who doesn’t have the first clue how to be a proper superhero.  

Ray steps into the role of mentor/father-figure for Hancock, and has a seemingly dubious plan for getting Hancock back in the city’s good graces.  When the latest in a string of warrants is issued for Hancock's arrest, Ray convinces him to hand himself over to the authorities and begin serving his prison sentence.  With Hancock locked up, Ray is sure the crime rate in Los Angeles will skyrocket, and the police will come begging for Hancock’s help.   When they do, Ray intends to have Hancock ready to lend aid in a manner that will earn him praise and respect, not outrage and bitterness.  This indeed comes to pass as Ray predicted, and the second act ends on a high note with Hancock successfully ending a bank heist-turned hostage situation with zero casualties and minimal collateral damage and receiving the kind of public ovation Superman gets on a daily basis.  As I said this is my favorite part of the film.  Sure the zaniness of the first act is both fun and funny, but it is here where that concept of a misfit superhero moves from comedic gimmick to a more serious, and more interesting, exploration of character.  

And so the film enters the third and final act, and it is here where it really starts to flounder.  What I’m about to reveal is a minor spoiler, so continue reading with fair warning.  Hancock divulges that he has no idea of who he really is or how he came to have his powers.  He can remember waking up in a hospital with a head injury that quickly healed, but no memory of his life or identity before that.  Much of his disillusionment in life stems from this event.  As he relates, “What a bastard I must have been…for no one to claim me.”  This is the launching point for the third act of the film, largely concerned with Hancock delving into his origin.  There is a very big and genuinely unexpected twist here that I won’t spoil for you, and so it will be difficult for me to discuss most of my complaints about the film’s story, because they involve this twist and the character involved.  Suffice it to say, an explanation is offered for Hancock’s origin, but it and the resolution of the film are sufficiently convoluted and ill-explained that I kept getting pulled out of the moment wanting to ask, “Wait, what?  How does that work?” or exclaim, “Hold it! That doesn’t make sense!”  Additionally, the mood and arc of the second act seems to have been cast aside for the spectacle of big, flashy, special-effects filled action sequences.  This is all very familiar and trite, and I found it disappointing that the potential and novelty of the second act was abandoned and ultimately wasted.

Perhaps I’m demanding too much of this film, because in the end Hancock is what it is, a popcorn flick, a summer blockbuster that (as one would expect) delivers in most areas except plot.  I truly enjoyed Will Smith in the title role, and I found Jason Bateman to be excellent (as usual).  Had more time and care been taken in crafting the film’s story I think Hancock could have been not just good, but great.  For most movie-goers I suppose good will be enough, and they will enjoy the film.  If you’re looking for some summer fun this Independence Day weekend and animated robots aren’t your thing, you could do much worse than Hancock.