Movie Information

The Story: A foulmouthed superhero with an attitude problem gets a remake from a gung ho PR man and discovers not only his inner good guy, but also the key to his past. The Lowdown: A potentially good concept is squandered in a variety of jarring shifts of tone, dubious directorial choices and messy plotting.
Genre: Pseudo-Comic-Book Adventure-Comedy
Director: Peter Berg (The Kingdom)
Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Jae Head, Eddie Marsan
Rated: PG-13

If it were possible for a movie to be tone deaf, Peter Berg’s Hancock would be that movie. Berg and screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan (both from TV) have taken a surefire concept and turned it into a damp squib. And since star Will Smith is also on the roster of producers, it seems likely he had a hand in this, too. The idea of a drunken, foulmouthed (PG-13 level), shabbily dressed superhero with an attitude problem being reshaped for public consumption by a publicist may sound a little like 1970s National Lampoon stuff, but it’s pretty fresh and irreverent as concerns Hollywood movies (maybe it owes something to Robert Altman’s spinach-hating Popeye). Unfortunately, the movie seems to be in a race to see which it can kill off first: the freshness or the irreverence.

The problem—apart from Berg’s addiction to the Michael Bay shaky close-up cam—is that no one involved had a clue what to do with the concept. After establishing the basic premise of Will Smith’s Hancock and bringing in Jason Bateman as the world’s most naive PR man (Bateman plays the entire movie like a refugee from an Up With People touring company), the movie becomes more desperate than funny. It then virtually gives up even trying to be funny and keeps tripping over its own feet by creating an ill-conceived mythos the movie only sticks to when the notion suits the plot. The phony mythos turns into equally spurious pathos that plays like bathos because not one iota of the sentiment or sympathy has been earned.

If that’s not enough, the whole thing is topped off with the lamest bad guy ever to disgrace the screen. Batman has the Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. The X-Men have Magneto. Hancock has Red (Eddie Marsan, Miami Vice), a far from arch-villain, with simple vengeance on his mind. Overlooking the fact that Red seems to have been arrested, tried, convicted and sent to the big house in the matter of only a few days, he’s simply not interesting. The script seems to recognize this, and affords him a degree in psychology in the hopes that he may more believably explain how he bamboozled a couple of disgruntled goons into functioning (rather badly) as his bargain-basement henchmen. It doesn’t help. Red doesn’t even know his opponent’s Achilles’ heel; he merely happens to show up at the right time to take advantage of it.

There are signs of trouble even before Hancock runs aground. The opening scenes look better than they are simply by comparison with the later ones. Smith is OK in the title role, though I’m inclined to agree with my colleague Justin Souther that it’s a role better suited to Chris Rock’s comedic style. Rock would certainly seem more at home in the scene where Hancock literally shoves one bad guy’s head up another bad guy’s posterior. (Some verbal concepts just don’t work well when literalized.) Still, the role has been clearly tailored to Smith, which is to say, we get the obligatory “Will Smith is not gay” moment. Here he gets to sneer at comic-book superheroes’ costumes as looking “homo.” (We get it, Will, you’re not gay. But if you keep telling us you’re not, we might get suspicious.)

Smith’s most ardent admirers will likely cut the film more slack than I have. But even the few admirers I’ve spoken to admit to being disappointed by Hancock. The tonal shifts are just too jarring. The big “surprise” revelation is telegraphed the first moment that Hancock and one other character meet. The film’s last scenes, which attempt to come across as pure suspense drama, suffer from poor execution and the script’s insistence of playing fast and loose with the dictates of the mythology it put into place a few scenes earlier. And finally, the feel-good ending smacks of far more sap than substance. The worst part about all of this is that if Hancock underperforms, we’ll likely be looking down the barrel of a Bad Boys 3. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “Hancock

  1. TonyRo

    I really felt like this was half a good movie. The beginning with Hancock as a drunk and screwing up around every turn, that stuff was good. The comedy worked as did the turmoil of Hancock becoming a better person.

    Then that really bad twist came and it was like the wings fell off the plane…the whole thing just started going down until it ultimately crashed in a huge explosion of plot failure. I mean, it was like whoever was writing it stopped for a period of maybe five years, started writing something else and decided to combine the two scripts.

    I’m a huge Will Smith fan and this was the first disappointment in a long time, but not on his part. I felt he acted the part very good and did well with the material he had, but the material itself was lacking.

    Also my brother felt like this movie would have benefited from an “R” rating (at least in terms of language and violence….sometimes a movie can benefit from those things). I agree, at times it seemed like an “R” rated flick that was tryign to pass of for “PG-13”.

  2. Unless I read it wrong, there apparently are two different versions of this film: the darker version and then the one that was focused-grouped to death that is now in the theaters. I hope the original version is made available.

  3. Justin Souther

    I’ve heard rumor of Smith being involved in re-shoots in LA up into early June. I don’t know if this is 100% true, but it sounds plausible.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Then that really bad twist came and it was like the wings fell off the plane

    Can you really call it a twist? It’s laid on with a very large trowel that it — or something very like it — is going to happen the first time a certain character sees a certain other character.

    I will confess, however, I lack whatever gene it is that makes people love Will Smith unreservedly. Sure, he’s likable and all that, but looking back there are not that many of his movies I’d care to sit through again.

  5. TonyRo

    Well I thought something was going to happen, but I thought it would be Hancock falls in love with her and him being a alien and her being married would cause him to return to his old ways.

    As cliche and bland as that sounds, it would be infinately better than a good flawed superhero movie turning into a dramatic story of immortal lovers that somehow get more powerful the farther apart they are.

    Or they could take a different route than every other movie made these days and eliminate the love story altogether and just make a good flick about a lousy superhero who has to work through his personal demons. Cause that could work.

  6. “Or they could take a different route than every other movie made these days and eliminate the love story altogether and just make a good flick about a lousy superhero who has to work through his personal demons. Cause that could work.”

    Even Hellboy’s hooked up.

  7. I think I laughed harder at that old “You really are an @$$#@!% when you’re drunk, Superman!” joke than I did throughout this entire exercise.

  8. M Wang

    Overall, this movie isn’t bad, I felt intrested and fascinated by the first half. Even the second half was lousy,dull and with a uberly-stupid villian around it. I coudn’t even belive my eyes when that Captain HOOK came out to be the ultimate villian. AT the end of Hancock I can’t stand that ridiculous eagle and that shitty graffity on the moon.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds like you just described a movie that’s more than a little bad when all is said and done.

  10. Mark Zamcheck

    I actually loved the film – even while agreeing with a lot of what you say, and I have a warmer
    spot for Smith due to Hancock.
    From the opening moment you know
    suspension of any disbelief will be required (assuming any belief is warranted in a superhero movie) simply because this guy could get drunk.
    Hmmm.. Could you poison him? Maybe a peanut allergy??
    This film will age well since it is lightweight, funny, has action and energy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
    Catch it on late-night.

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