Hancocked but only half-loaded
Peter Berg’s ‘dark-lite’ superhero movie is hard to pin down, but easy to enjoy
Hancock is sort of a hard movie to pin down (not necessarily a bad thing), so this time around I’m gonna have to rely on the “Me! Me! Me!” approach to reviewing.
I’ve never met a superhero movie that I really liked. Not my bag and I’ll leave it at that. But I’ll cop that I was sorta looking forward to Hancock. Not because of Will Smith, because I’ve also never really met a Will Smith movie that blew me away, either.
The intriguing factor (for me) was that it’s helmed by director Peter Berg, of Very Bad Things, The Rundown and The Kingdom. I passed on The Kingdom, The Rundown was entertaining enough, but I really liked Very Bad Things. It’s one very messed up piece of work, and to hear that Berg was going to take on the superhero genre was intriguing in itself. The nihilism of Very Bad Things dressed in the idealism of superhero drag sounded … interesting.
And if nothing else, Hancock is interesting. The end result is a curiosity, a superhero movie for folks who don’t like superhero movies all that much. As such, I felt it delivered the goods, but as they say, mileage may vary.
Here we have Smith as the eponymous superhero. He’s got the superpowers in the bag (along with a bottle of cheap whiskey), but he’s not really down with the hero part. Generally, he’s more interested in drinking himself into oblivion than helping out the citizens of Los Angeles. So, he’s pretty much the superhero that the City of Super Ego deserves. He’s obnoxious and noisy and when spurred into action usually does more damage than good.
But Los Angeles is also the city of second acts and rebranding, so if the premise sounds predictable, it is. That is, through Act One, as an idealistic PR chump (Jason Bateman in the Jason Bateman role) takes Hancock under his wing to turn the public’s loathin’ for their resident cock-up into lovin'. Mission accomplished for about the first 45 minutes, when the flick abruptly shifts gears and becomes another movie. And before long, Hancock shifts gears again (with a little grinding) to become yet another movie. Somewhere along the line, the superhero send-up promised by the trailers falls along the wayside.
Obviously, expecting three halves to coalesce into a satisfying whole is expecting a little much, but credit is due for not painting by the spandex numbers. And surprisingly enough, Will Smith is what helps it work on the level at which it does work. This is the first Will Smith movie I’ve watched where I forgot about Will Smith the actor. I was just cruising with John Hancock, character. It’s fun when that happens.
Maybe I enjoyed it ‘cause it’s creating its own mythos, and doesn’t have to pander to the built-in fanboi expectations. It did what it needed to do, and did so on its own terms. It’s an origin story that felt organic, and didn’t just rehash the shit out of something that everyone already knows by pop-cultural osmosis.
I’d rather have seen Berg’s original R-rated version (the flick went through a grueling chop-session to pull the family-friendly PG-13). As it is, Hancock comes across as dark-lite. A little darker and it might have been brilliant.