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SECOND LOOK: Hancock (2008)

It is only in recent years that superhero films have begun to examine the consequences behind the destructive fights of the caped crusaders. Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War both dealt with said effects of Superman and the Avengers’ actions, leading to shaken public opinions and government sanctions against them. But long before such iconic heroes got on the bad side of the public, there was one “hero” who had fallen hard from trying to do good. The action-comedy Hancock, released in 2008, and starring good old Will Smith, playing against type during his exploratory years in acting. The superhero version of Bad Santa, Hancock is a film with a lot of potential, being a more realistic take on what if a normal guy had superpowers and for the most part works well. However, it isn’t without problems.

This review does contain spoilers.

Who doesn’t love Will Smith? The star of The Fresh Prince of Belair, Men in Black, and Independence Day, and the personification of cool. When he started getting type cast, Smith started doing different roles in movies, such as in I, Robot and The Pursuit of Happyness. Hancock is another such role, playing a drunken jackass of a superhuman, well, named John Hancock. Commonly drinking and being an uninterested jerkwad, Hancock does fight crime but often causes mass property damage and destruction. In the fantastic opening scene, Hancock stops a group of crooks on the highway, but when they break his beer bottle, he drags their car up into the air and pins it on top a skyscraper. His constant antics leave him jeered and hated by Los Angeles, but Hancock is in truth a lonely and confused soul.

But, Hancock is given an opportunity to turn over a new leaf when he rescues PR marketer Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from a train accident. A grateful Ray offers to help turn Hancock into the superhero he should be, convincing him to go to prison to make amends until Los Angeles needs him, which it eventually does when crime rates soar. Putting on a leather suit straight out of X-Men, Hancock becomes a proper but uncomfortable superhero and thwarts a bank robbery led by criminal Kenneth Parker (Eddie Marsan). And, it sounds like that is the whole film wrapped up, but it isn’t. The whole premise of what makes Hancock so appealing ends halfway through the picture before it goes into a completely different direction.

See, Hancock is actually suffering from amnesia and has no idea who he truly is and where he comes from. It kind of comes out of nowhere, but so does the film’s plot twist, revealing Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), who has been a sour supporter to Hancock, turns out to be superhuman as well and even more powerful than our clumsy hero. It feels like the filmmakers ran out of ideas for the original story and diverted to tropes of other superhero flicks. It turns out Hancock and Mary are immortal gods or aliens and possibly former lovers (my guess is that they were Zeus and Hera), and have been through a countless cycle of love and hate. Even more flimsy things happen in the third act, with Hancock suddenly losing his powers when around Mary, gets shot and put in hospital, just as that bank robber arrives with other criminals to get revenge on Hancock.

You get the feel of two different superhero films both shoved into one, with a very different tone by the time we get halfway through the second act. Thankfully, Hancock has a lot going for it. Everything is shot and set very realistically, everyone is down-to-earth, and the comedy is gold. Even the sudden change to the story works well, bringing a lot more to the drama beyond this being a funny drunk superhero film.

Will Smith does a great job as Hancock, and you can come to care for the character, to clean himself up, and find out who is he. Bateman and Theron are both good, but the weak link in the cast is Eddie Marsan. His character shows up out of the blue, loses hand, sent to prison, and is a bit of a scheming, vengeful jackass, but we don’t really know nothing about him. He gains a weird claw for a hand, like this is supposed to be what is to make him iconic. But Marsan has little time or presence onscreen, I can’t take him seriously as this film’s antagonist.

As seen in the trailers, there are a lot of laughs in the film. Hancock’s introductory scene where he drunkenly tries to stop a police chase causes mayhem, and when the crooks break his drink, Hancock snaps, stops the getaway car Fred Flintstone-style, and hangs it from the top of a skyscraper. There are plenty more highlights like when Hancock tosses a bully into the sky (played by that French kid from Rob Zombie’s Halloween), “saves” a beached whale, and shoves a criminal’s head up another guy’s ass. I also enjoy Hancock’s completely uninterested attitude towards criminals, wrapping up Kenneth’s bank robbery as fast as possible. He has superpowers and he uses them without wasting time trying to negotiate with the villains. Okay, he does try that but it is only after he cleared out Kenneth’s minions.

Besides some flaws like the sudden change in story and tone, and the constant shaking camera, Hancock is a good film. Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman will become the major examples of what happens when superheroes have to face their actions, but Hancock did it first with originality and a bit of fun.

Have you watched Hancock and what are your thoughts on it? Should Will Smith be in more superhero movies and are you excited to see him in Suicide Squad? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell