“He is saving the world whether we like it or not.”
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Synopsis: Hancock is a superhero whose ill considered behavior regularly causes damage in the millions. He changes when one person he saves helps him improve his public image.
There are plenty of drawbacks to being a superhero, judging by the state of the title character in Peter Berg’s dark comedy. Hancock (Will Smith – Hitch, After Earth) is a grizzled alcoholic with anger management issues and non-existent public relations skills. But his gruff demeanour hides a desire for some human contact that doesn’t involve groupies looking for the superhuman lay of their lives, or angry onlookers berating him for the expensive trails of destruction arising from his well-intentioned attempts to save lives. So the demoralised superhero allows himself to be talked into permitting PR guru Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman – Smokin’ Aces, This is Where I Leave You), a grateful beneficiary of one of Hancock’s cack-handed rescue attempts, to have a crack at transforming his public image, even though Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron – Snow White and the Huntsman, Mad Max: Fury Road), has clearly taken an instant dislike to him.
Over the last decade or so, it’s become something of a fad for superhero movies to assume a dark perspective on the world in which their protagonists reside, but Hancock must be one of the first to focus on the pressures and burdens associated with superhero status. High speed flight through the skies brings with it the very real risk of colliding with flocks of birds or airplanes, and landings have to be timed with a precision Hancock can’t be bothered to muster in order to avoid ploughing up 100 feet of tarmac. Even shaving has to be carried out using his own fingernails as presumably no blade on earth can penetrate his super-whiskers. Although it’s sold as a comedy, Hancock is filmed like a drama, with a lot of extreme close-ups, and any humour in a situation exists thanks only to a subdued Smith’s unusually reserved delivery. Ironically, it’s probably his close association in the minds of the public with upbeat, positive characters that makes him such a good choice for the part of Hancock. For example, few other actors could play straight the scene in which Hancock launches a defenceless kid into the sky without resorting to comedy to soften the menace inherent in such an act (even if the kid is an obnoxious brat who deserves everything he gets).
Plot-wise, Hancock’s a bit of a dud, despite an effective mid-movie twist that comes out of nowhere. But it’s this twist that takes the plot off in a new, fairly absurd, direction linked to Greek mythology, and which leads to some lukewarm conflict that fails to generate much interest. This twist also catapults the plot into the realms of fantasy, and far from the semi-realistic milieu in which it had previously resided. That might sound like an odd statement to make about a superhero movie but, until the twist, Hancock had managed to sidestep the superhero cliches to which it eventually succumbs in its final act. Despite this, Hancock is worth catching, not only for its fresh perspective on a cliched genre, but for Will Smith’s impressive turn as its troubled hero.
(Reviewed 7th February 2016)
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