I was never really excited about seeing Hancock. I'm generally a fan of Will Smith's big budget summer movies. At first glance, this one seems no different. But then it falls victim to the problem that seems to be plaguing all Superhero movies these days. How to balance telling a story with giving people the action they want to see. This is actually a problem for the action movie genre as a whole in my opinion. I have a lot of thoughts on this so I'll put it in another post.
The point is that the makers of Hancock falls handily into the trap. It serves up mediocre action and not enough of it, while giving us a half-assed, half-acted story that leaves you confused and angry rather than satisfied.
I should admit that I went into this movie looking for something. I read this review of the movie from www.pajiba.com before going to see it. Phillip Stevens voices something here that turned on a lightbulb for me.
The first problem is Will Smith, an actor who has long ceased playing any character other than Will SmithThis struck me as one of those "duh" moments like when you realize that Samuel L. Jackson has no real talent except for being great at yelling angry obscenities at people. You knew all along, but you were kinda better off being ignorant. Will Smith is always entertaining to watch. His charm is undeniable, and I can say that with full confidence in my manhood. But the very reason he's always entertaining is that he's always just playing the same dude that was entertaining in the last movie. Consider this:
- Independence Day - aggressive pilot Will Smith fighting aliens
- Bad Boys - rash cop Will Smith fighting criminals
- Men In Black - goofy secret agent Will Smith, aliens again
- I, Robot - disgruntled cop Will Smith fighting killer robots
- Hitch - ultra-smooth Will Smith teaching lame dudes how to be more like Will Smith
- Hancock - disgruntled superhero Will Smith fighting criminals
Anyway, the important thing to note here is what this does for my impression of the film. I can enjoy the Fresh Prince doing his thing, while completely separating that from how I receive the rest of the film. Basically, instead of Will Smith carrying the film, he runs on ahead while the film falls flat on it's face.
So let's talk about the two things that make this film terrible. The first and second half of the film illustrate these two points nicely. The first half is the payoff from the trailers. It delivers the "promise of the premise" (forgot where I heard that). We want to see a drunken asshole superhero go around and tear stuff up. And there's a fair amount of this. But not nearly enough for me. The whale throwing bit form the trailer was great, but it's one of only 3 major incidents in the film that are worth mentioning. And one of these incidents is marred by nasty-looking CG. It was one of the only scenes of the film that I felt was cartoonish. Unfortunately it was also supposed to be the coolest.
Honestly this probably won't be a problem for most people. There may plenty of mayhem to satisfy the average movie-goer. But that was really the only reason I was interested in the film. And considering that the film itself even mentions the "dozens of incidents caught on tape and posted on YouTube", I'm feeling a little slighted with only a handful.
The third act of the film is what earns it a solid thumbs down. Basically we've watched Hancock mature from a drunken asshole who screws up while trying to help people, to a sober asshole who does a pretty decent job of helping people. Hooray! Let's end it here. But wait, we haven't really been given any major conflict here. Everything happened just a little too right. Oh, plus it's only been an hour or so. And then the ride goes into a downward spiral, the bottom of which is wrapped in murky darkness.
So Hancock is basically a low budget superman. He's really strong, he can fly and he's pretty much invincible. But that last part presents a problem. How are we going to be scared for him? Where's his challenge? When do we get to root for him as he faces certain defeat. Superman has this same problem, along with the Hulk and a few of the other big names. They need some sort of contrived weakness to add any kind of tension to their story. Unlike the rest of the super-powered crew who get the tar beat out of them on a regular basis (think Spider-man, Batman and Iron Man). The big guys need some kind of chink in their invulnerable armor. Superman has Kryptonite. The Hulk has the fact that he can be caught with his proverbial pants down as mild-mannered science geek Bruce Banner. So obviously the filmmakers had to invent something for Hancock. Wow, did they screw this up.
Okay, enough beating around the bush, I'll lay it out for you. Charlize Theron plays Jason Bateman's wife Mary in the movie. In an unforeseen (and unimpressive) twist, she also has superpowers and is also married to Hancock. And it turns out that when they are close to each other, they lose their powers. Read that again. Wait, first look up the term deus ex machina then read it again. Wow, did they screw this up.
Let's skip the fact that summer action block busters do not need last minute plot twists. This is particularly true of Superhero movies. The only thing we should be surprised by is how exactly the hero is going to save the day. But hey, you gotta try new things right? I'll give them points for effort. Let this failed experiment be a lesson to the rest of you.
But what this does to the story is horrendous. Throughout the film, there has been some kind of tension between Mary and Hancock. We assume it's sexual tension because Charlize is hot and there's no other love interest in site for Hancock. This kind of baffles me though, because not only is she happily married, but her husband is a nice guy. Usually when a film asks us to be okay with adultery, it at least has the decency to make us despise the jerk who's being cuckolded. But Ray (Bateman) is a good guy who loves his wife. And more so, he actually cares about helping Hancock. Please Will, don't screw him over. I don't care how disgruntled you are. That's not you.
Boom! All of a sudden Hancock and Mary are flying around fighting each other and causing massive property damage. Why? Because they love each other and she doesn't want her husband to find out. Oh, you mean why is Hancock fighting? Um, I'm not real sure. He has no idea what's going on the entire time. Did I mention he has amnesia? Yeah, I was trying to spare you that little nugget of joy. He has no idea who he is, who she is or why she's so upset. Awesome.
How could this possibly be explained? It's not of course. Mary makes a half-hearted attempt by saying "We've always been drawn to each other. That's how it's always been." or some such nonsense. But that's it. They are "built" to be together. They're automatically in love, and when they're apart, they somehow develop bad ass superpowers.
Who built them? Where do the powers come from? Why do they go away when you're together? How are you drawn to each other?
Nope, that's all we get. Sorry.
And now that that nasty bit of back story is out of the way, some lame dude with a pistol can walk up and shoot Hancock. Pardon me in advance, but Fuck That. I'm pissing myself off talking about this movie so I'm gonna wrap up. But to bring things home, here's how our titular hero saves the day. He doesn't. He's getting his ass kicked by some guy who's name I didn't even catch. And Ray saves him. The normal guy is the real hero of this story. And that's just super.
Take your money and go see Iron Man again.