"People should love you. They really should, okay? And I want to deliver that for you. It's the least that I can do. You're a superhero. Kids should be running up to you, asking for your autograph, people should be cheering you on the streets..."
" I gotta wonder what a kind of a bastard I must have been, that nobody was there to claim me. I mean, I am not the most charming guy in the world, so I've been told, but...nobody?"
Stale. Vapid. Hollow. Offensive. Inconsistent. Illogical. Lame. Fluffy. These are the words that popped into my head while watching Hancock; a nonsense hodgepodge of intriguing ideas attempting to offer a unique twist on the conventional superhero movie.
2008 appears to be the ideal year for disappointing superhero movies to crawl out and subsequently die. This film was released in the shadow of Doug Liman's second-rate Jumper. Both lethally suffer from awful screenplays and a contemptible, self-indulgent, selfish hero. Hancock works from a banal and standard script, seemingly borrowing various facets from other superheroes. There's a shoestring plot on which to hang the action sequences and the (failed) humour. Hancock is also excruciating, dull, unimaginative and unengaging. Forget about this being as emotionally gripping as The Pursuit of Happyness, as delightfully entertaining as Bad Boys, or as funny and appealing as Men in Black - this is pure preposterous tosh!
John Hancock (Smith) is a bitter, disillusioned superhero. He can fly, he's impervious to any sort of damage, he has super strength...well, I'm sure you get the idea. Hancock has one major problem: his public image. Every time he saves someone's life or catches a criminal he inadvertently causes a great deal of damage to the city of Los Angeles. When Hancock isn't angering the general public, he's a drunken bum. Enter public relations professional Ray Embrey (Bateman) who, after being saved by Hancock, takes it upon himself to reinvent and improve Hancock's public image in order to make him more of a crowd pleaser. A warrant is issued for the arrest of Hancock (as his latest stunt caused $9 million of damage), and Ray persuades the superhero to turn himself in willingly. This begins Hancock's inner journey from public nuisance to public idol.
Hancock is an abundantly flawed superhero escapade. I honesty have no idea where I should begin...
For starters, Hancock isn't a sufficiently developed character nor is he anyone we wish to root for. His origin story isn't told until the second half. His back-story comes far too late to make a difference to the character (who's established as selfish and contemptible). Ideally, the film should allow its audience to understand Hancock's motivations, as well as the reasons for his bad attitude and callousness from the very first frame. When is the origin story introduced in Superman: The Movie or Tim Burton's original Batman? It's the first thing we need to see in order to flesh out a character and provide detail into this character's life. Flashback, montage...the script needs to allow us to identify with him before he opens his mouth.
In I Am Legend, we empathise with Will Smith's character from the very beginning because we're given a reason to care about him. In The Pursuit of Happyness he played a poor man trying to raise his son. We pity him and want to see him succeed. In Hancock he calls bystanders pricks, drinks himself to oblivion, doesn't care about anyone but himself, and his social skills are putrid. The heroics he occasionally displays just aren't good enough.
The dialogue is also quite offensive. In the opening sequence he rips the roof off a getaway vehicle, revealing three men. Hancock proceeds to joke about the lack of girls in the car. The insinuation is that they are gay (even when most criminals we see arrested on TV are men anyway!). This further manifests itself later on in the film. Ray holds up a series of comic books, all featuring white men in standard superhero outfits. First words that escape Hancock's mouth? "Homo. Homo in red. Norwegian homo". The gay community would probably have something to say about this... I wonder what Hancock would've said if he was shown comic books featuring African American superheros. Would he call them niggers? I'd guess not, as this would alienate Smith's race. "Homo" is the only slur said by Hancock throughout the entire film. When he's approached by African Americans, he doesn't use a slur at all. He doesn't even use a slur when he fights Latinos at the beginning. To the writers it's a crime to use a slur for African Americans or Latinos, yet it's perfectly acceptable to do so for gays. How insensitive!
This point brings us onto the rest of the script issues... The film's structure is unbelievably weak. It's as if the screenwriters had brainstormed ideas for the major plot points but could only come up with pulp to connect them. These plot points are just mashed together, creating an extraordinarily messy final product. The screenwriters seemingly expect us to fill in the blanks.
Even though this is a summer blockbuster, Hancock offers barely any action. Okay, so they wanted this to be more of a drama. But why did they market this as an action film? Why did they release it during the summer season when action films are all the rage? The script also never manages to offer a clear-cut villain until the dreadful final third. This villain is weak and his entrance is far too late.
Logic appears to be an enemy of the screenplay as well. At one stage Hancock tosses a child up into the air. On the child's way back down to the ground he's caught by Hancock. This should have caused incredible internal damage, yet the kid is just fine. Another illogical instance: Hancock flies out of prison temporarily. The alarm is immediately raised. Seriously, bullets bounce off this guy. Why in hell would the police even bother wasting manpower and bullets trying to recapture him? An alarm would do absolutely no good. During the film's climax Hancock is hurt pretty badly after being shot and stabbed. He falls out of a high window (third or fourth storey) onto the roof of a bus and he's just fine? There's also another character with powers identical to Hancock's, and they don't want their powers revealed (they even threaten Hancock with penalty of death if he spills the beans). Yet this character engages Hancock in combat in broad daylight with hundreds of witnesses. In addition to logic frequently being defied, inconsistencies are abundant. The entire story about the other character with Hancock's powers is muddled up! I'd be wasting time (and spoiling things) by going any further.
Then there's the matter of product placement...oh how Hancock appears to adore product placement! There are Ray Ban sunglasses (mentioned by name!), a store with all product labels facing the camera (with close-ups of the products), an ad for the Showtime series Dexter, gratuitous YouTube plugs, and there are even FedEx boxes being displayed!
For a modern movie, the special effects are somewhat dull as well. Peter Berg directed 2007's The Kingdom...and again brings his trademark shaky camera technique to the table. He attempts to give the CGI sequences a grittier, more realistic edge. This fails in the first scene - an inebriated Hancock flying towards a highway police pursuit exhibits embarrassing phoniness. However, the only thing I can say in the film's favour is in regards to its entertainment value. There are sporadic instances of good action scenes and funny moments. But these all happen within the first 30 minutes. Beyond that, everyone is on autopilot. The enjoyably frenetic opening sequence is of the standard we expected to pervade the rest of the film. Sadly, it's a one-off instance. A character also watches a few clips of Hancock's most infamous misdemeanours on YouTube. A few amusing clips are played and Will Smith's reactions are priceless.
On the whole, though, the performances are uniformly mediocre. Smith doesn't bring an ounce of emotion to the table and Charlize Theron is wooden. Bateman is at least watchable. He disperses a few amusing lines of dialogue. The rest of the cast aren't even worth mentioning.
Hancock is a massive disappointment no matter where you turn. It seems like the film is actually two films rolled into one. The first is the tale of the anti-hero learning to be a defender of truth, justice, and the American Way. It's the more interesting of the two. The second piece is muddled and disjointed as the screenplay provides revelations about Hancock's origin. This aspect has the scope of a Shakespearean tragedy and cannot effectively be addressed in the 45 minutes allotted to it. Both halves had potential, and should have been properly expanded into separate movies. By compressing them into a single unit, the story suffers as a whole. Hancock is stupid and hollow, yet it does at least offer a moderately entertaining experience.