Will Smith’s latest is a definitely entertaining but ultimately flawed film from Peter Berg that could have used a bit more breathing room and depth to the picture.
On the surface, Hancock (Will Smith) is a disgruntled, drunk, and collateral damage magnet of a super hero that no one likes. The talk shows of LA are calling for him to go away and never come back, sick and tired of him tearing apart their town and wasting their tax dollars on his messes. Enter Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a struggling PR guy that can’t get companies to give stuff away for free in exchange being part of a campaign to make the world a better place. Ray is saved by Hancock, almost being plowed by a train, and he comes to the defense of Hancock who is immediately berated by the surrounding public for his reckless behavior and doesn’t give a shit attitude. Ray invites Hancock over for dinner and pitches him to let him engineer a reimagining of Hancock in the public eye; which Hancock reluctantly agrees too. While at dinner Ray’s wife Mary catches Hancock’s eye as his attitude completely turns off Mary in supporting Ray’s campaign to help Hancock. With a disdaining voice in Ray’s ear from his wife, he moves forward with the PR plan which begins with Hancock serving a prison sentence for all the damage he has incurred. Hancock is hesitant, but Ray ensures that the call will come as LA experiences life without Hancock.
To spoil more of the plot would be a disservice so I will turn to the acting which is top notch all around. Will Smith as great as usual with this grumpy and mean superhero to play with. He also manages to give the man depth by giving us hints that there is more to him than just booze and destruction, and that he is sad, lost, and lonely with being the only one of his kind left. Smith is obviously believable as a super hero and also sells us on liking this guy you aren’t really supposed to probably like. The awkwardness of the transition Ray has in mind for him is also handled particularly well to great comic effect.
Jason Bateman continues a great string of work as he plays the extremely likable and funny Ray. The blind optimism and positive attitude he carries is great for the character and he plays the overwhelmed bits well. Bateman’s humor never misses a beat and the banter between Hancock and him, with Ray never pulling any punches always telling him straight, works really well throughout the film. Smith and Bateman sell us on an unconventional friendship between the two that never feels fake or forced.
Charlize Theron’s Mary is a bit veiled and awkward with agendas working below the surface. She never is comfortable and constantly weary of Hancock and exposing her son and family to him. Theron does a good job with what she has to work with, and shines at the end, but she definitely has the thinnest character in the film. Jae Head also does a great job as Ray and Mary’s son and introduces a fun dynamic when Hancock visits the house hold.
The thing that holds this film back is the structure and depth of the material. The film is rushed, I mean it just ignores any background or depth till the end and then they leave way to much unexplained. Maybe they were banking on a sequel to fill out the mythology of Hancock, which sounds really interesting, but it leaves us pretty much left to assume what his history really is. The film also glosses over the bad guy and eludes to a history but doesn’t, it’s just very hazy at the end as they try and cram a bunch of info in and keep the runtime at 90 minutes. Also the film feels truncated due to the rush to keep things going and while it’s nice to not have the film drag, we still feel like there was more to know, and wanted to know. I know there was a bit of tug of war with this one and it also had to be trimmed to get down from an R rating, so it will be interesting to see what happens with this once we get to see it on Blu-Ray and whether Peter Berg had a different version he preferred.
One final little note, the CGI and action in the film are pretty sub-par by today’s standards. I wasn’t really impressed by it and got far more enjoyment out of the story, rather then the wiz bang stuff. Maybe that is why I’m disappointed why we didn’t get more of the mythology and back story of some of these characters.
In the end, Hancock is an entertaining and fast paced film that will please the summer movie goer. Unfortunately it feels like they cut short what could have been a really interesting character study if they really dived into the psyche of a tormented superhero. You could have kept the laughs and action and still taken a look into what made Hancock the way he was and make his emergence into a proper super hero more compelling. If you are a fan of Smith it’s definitely worth checking out as Hancock is a fun character, but if you are looking for a super hero flick, two better ones are already out (Hulk and Iron Man) and two more come out in the following weeks (Dark Knight and Hellboy) that early word is far superior to this. Though, the film is definitely worth at least a rental on a boring weekend down the road.