‘Hancock’ movie review: Will Smith soars in superhero satire

NOW STREAMING ON:

Two-thirds of a solid, stable superhero satire is sabotaged by a disastrously misconceived final act in Peter Berg’s Hancock, which stars Will Smith as the titular hero. 

A reasonably enjoyable examination of what would happen to a real-life Superman who has to deal with property damage, public image concerns, alcoholism, and anger management is thrown out the window during an ending that not only abandons the satire that came before, but becomes the movie it has been satirizing. 

In fact, the final act here is so out of whack with the rest of the movie – and any kind of general filmmaking logic – that I was fascinated by the fleeting, half-developed ideas that were thrown out left and right during the final reels. I cannot recommend this film – it is, indeed, a mess – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it; most of Hancock is well done, and the stuff that isn’t is interesting nonetheless.

Smith stars as John Hancock – not his real name, just what he was asked for by a nurse after waking up in a hospital 80 years ago with a bad case of amnesia, two tickets to the original Frankenstein and a pack of gum in his pocket, and oh yeah, Superman-like superpowers that include flight, invulnerability, and super-strength. 

In modern-day Los Angeles, Hancock seems to be an unwanted nuisance who occasionally fights crime when he isn’t pounding down the Jack Daniels and sleeping on park benches. Calls are made for his arrest (if only they could contain him); Hancock has what some may call a problem with public relations. 

This is where PR man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a man whose life Hancock saves by demolishing a train, comes in. Attempting to reverse Hancock’s public image, Ray says if they want to arrest him, let ’em. They’ll come clamoring back when they need help. 

Hancock begrudgingly agrees. The spandex might be a problem, though. Meanwhile, Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) wants nothing to do with the problematic superhero.

For a while, this film really worked, and I enjoyed it. It covers interesting ground, contrasting a superhero’s existence in a real world, refreshing in this age of comic book blockbusters and limitless sequels.

The less said about the ending the better. Suffice it to say a ridiculously complex and completely illogical backstory, a new superhero, and an entire villain/revenge storyline is forcibly injected into the movie during the final reels. 

What happened to my satire? Keep it simple, I say. But then, I suppose, you don’t have a $100 million 4th-of-July blockbuster.

Still, the star trio here is up to task. The sexual tension between Smith and Theron is, at times, palpable; one looks forward to seeing them work together in other (better) projects. And Bateman plays off both of them perfectly.

Berg’s direction is competent and fits most of the story well, heavy on the shaky-cam realism; though this never, even during final act indulgences, becomes the grand ole superhero epic producers might have hoped for or audiences might expect. 

Short runtime for this kind of film (80 minutes, minus credits) indicates production problems but also allows for a relatively painless viewing experience.

Hancock

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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