I also did my formal review of Hancock for the Brits, so here’s a quicker version of this one, too.
Peter Berg directed my favorite film of 2007: The Kingdom. It’s one of the smartest, most thoughtful action-thrillers I’ve ever seen, and it ends on a note that really slams you in the gut and leaves you thinking about it long after it’s over.
Will Smith is the King of the Summer Blockbuster and deservedly one of the biggest stars in motion picture history. As disappointing as I Am Legend was, the work Smith did in that film was Oscar-worthy.
And I love superhero movies.
What the hell went wrong with Hancock?
I don’t even know where to begin.
What really kills me about this movie is that the first half of it is the movie you see advertised in the trailers.
And it’s good.
Will Smith is Hancock, who picked his name because a nurse asked him to sign his “John Hancock” on his hospital records 80 years ago when he woke up in a hospital not knowing who he was, why he could fly or why he was indestructible.
He doesn’t age. He can’t be harmed. And since he feels so unappreciated and alone, he doesn’t want anything to do with anyone or anything.
Then again, part of the reason he’s so unappreciated might have something to do with the fact that he’s turned into a surly, bitter drunk who’d rather stew all day on a bus-stop bench in his own body odor than save the city from threats that only he can stop.
And when he does reluctantly step up to save the day, he does so with such reckless carelessness that he causes millions of dollars of property damage.
Enter Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a public relations whiz-kid who gets laughed out of board rooms by corporate bean-counters who don’t subscribe to his theory that they could save thousands of lives by donating medical supplies to a world filled with children in need. But Ray keeps on keeping on, buoyed by his own resilient goodness and the support of his loving wife, Mary (Charlize Theron).
On a fateful afternoon, Hancock saves Ray from being smashed in a traffic jam by an oncoming train. But he does so with his usual lack of grace and causes massive property damage in the process. An angry crowd gathers around Hancock, berating him for the very actions that have saved their city time and again.
Ray stands up to the crowd and defends Hancock, who can’t help but notice that this is the first time in as long as he can remember that someone actually showed him some appreciation.
So Ray offers to help Hancock improve his public image and learn to be a real hero again. His first idea is for Hancock to do some jail time for all the warrants he’s avoided for the property damage his exploits have caused. Hancock reluctantly agrees. And it works. And when a big bank heist spins wildly out of control, the city realizes that they needed Hancock all along and calls for his release.
Hancock swoops in and saves the day in an awesome sequence that combines action and humor from Hancock’s efforts to try to be a nicer guy. It really is an awesome showcase for Will Smith, who was born for this kind of thing.
Ray is proud of Hancock. Hancock is proud of Hancock. And Mary is just happy that Hancock didn’t mess things up and break her husband’s heart in the process.
Up to this point, I was loving the film. It was a witty, funny, clever superhero satire with smartly played commentaries on the fickle hypocrisy of public opinion.
But then it takes the craziest, most ridiculous turn I have ever seen in any movie ever, sparked by one of the most illogical and truly awful plot twists of all time.
It’s really that bad.
The resulting contrivances and convolutions are presented in such a poor and sloppy way that the capable cast is reduced to spouting lines of terrible exposition to explain every little plot hole.
If the writers knew these plot problems were there, why didn’t they just fix the problems instead of glossing over the problems with more problems?
I swear to you, gang, that I have never seen a film fall apart so badly.
And I will never understand how this made it to theaters in the form that it’s in.
The thing is, it actually ends pretty well given the mess it makes of itself. If they had reworked about 30 minutes worth of material at the end, they could have maintained the very good thing they had going in the first big chunk of the film.
At least the cast shines. Smith is hilarious and irreverent, bringing charisma and laughs to one of the most initially unlikable characters he’s ever played. I love this guy and I’ll watch him in anything. Except for Hancock a second time, though that isn’t his fault.
Jason Bateman is the glue that holds this entire mess together. I remember when he played Bob Newhart’s son on the short-lived CBS sitcom George & Leo in 1997, and I wrote a review in my college newspaper that sang the praises of “the triumphant return of Jason Bateman to television.” He went on to do the best work of his career as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, and here he brings plenty of wit, charm and goodness to a film that desperately needs it.
Charlize Theron is beautiful beyond comprehension and it’s good to see her working with Bateman again after the run of episodes they did together on Arrested Development, where she was absolutely hilarious.
On a technical note, this movie has some of the worst special effects I’ve ever seen, continuing the I Am Legend trend of an excellent Will Smith performance surrounded by terrible computer effects.
In closing, Hancock has a massively entertaining first half that gets derailed by one of the most disastrous and ill-advised plot twists I have ever seen in my nearly 33 years of loving movies.
The public chastises Hancock the character for all the collateral damage he causes. I chastise Hancock the movie for making collateral damage out of its cast and its director.