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Hancock / *** (PG-13)

Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008, at 8:09 PM

(Photo)
Jason Bateman and Will Smith ring in a new Independence Day celebration with the superhero flick "Hancock".
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Peter Berg. Written by Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan. Running time: 92 min. Rated PG-13 (for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language).

Who says all our superheroes have to be paragons of perfection? Or even noble outcasts, like Batman or Spider-Man? As our society gets more pessimistic and self-destructive, should not also our heroes? As sci-fi/fantasy figures they are a reflection of the human condition. And so we are given Hancock. He is an alcoholic bull in a china shop who also happens to be able to fly and seems to be indestructible.

Will Smith portrays Hancock as essentially a bum who seems as bothered by the business of being as superhero as the citizens of Los Angeles are to have him as their guardian. "Why don't you go to New York?!" pleads the Chief of Police after Hancock sets a new record for property damage during the pursuit of a band of hooligans in an SUV. The people don't like their hero, and Hancock doesn't much like himself either.

One day Hancock happens into the life of a public relations agent in yet another costly rescue to the city. But the PR man actually feels gratitude toward Hancock for saving his life. His name is Ray Embry and is played by the grossly underrated actor Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development"). Ray has been struggling to sell his own personal crusade to change the world with a big business advertising campaign called "All Heart", but he makes it his new mission to change public opinion of Hancock.

Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron, "Aeon Flux") is wary of her husband's new cause, which promises even less success than his "All Heart" campaign. Hancock's unwillingness to change his attitude and the city's disgust of him makes a change of image unlikely for the hero, but Ray may just be the PR genius he claims when the first proposal he has for Hancock is to turn himself in for the charges against him by the City of Los Angeles. Hancock goes reluctantly and thus begins the unfolding of the mystery of just who Hancock is.

"Hancock" is a film that cuts to the chase and is very focused in the delivery of its story. This is Hancock's story and nothing else. There are a few big twists to be revealed, which is why I will go further into the plot. Unfortunately, director Peter Berg shows us his hand on its biggest surprise far too early in the film. This not-as-surprising-as-it-should-be development happens at about the half way point and should come as a great shock, but we see it coming a mile away.

What Berg and screenwriters Vincent Ngo ("Hostage") and Vince Gilligan ("The X-Files") do very well is resist the urge to tell a typical superhero story with an epic crisis and a supervillain. There is an attempt to provide a villain that feels like it was pasted in to the story. That is partially because it doesn't belong there and partially because Berg keeps the movie squarely focused on Hancock and his personal journey of discovery. Berg does a better job here incorporating action into the larger frame of the story than in his previous film "The Kingdom". In that politically charged movie the story ended once the bullets began to fly. In this one the action is much more supportive of the overall story.

Hancock's story is really America's. Both have the eagle as their symbol. Like America, Hancock finds himself to be the only superpower amidst a world that resents him for it. He has lost his way and can no longer remember who he really is. He wants to do what's right, but lets his emotions rule his actions rather than trying to understand what it is the rest of the world needs from him. Like America, Hancock needs to redefine his own image of himself before he can do any good for anyone else.

I read some critics claiming that Smith is a bit off his game on this one. His performance is of a more serious nature, lacking some of the lighthearted charm that has made him so popular. Yet his performance isn't a far cry from his role in last holiday season's hit "I Am Legend", which was one of his highest praised portrayals.

This is not to say "Hancock" isn't funny. Smith's superhero is filled with sardonic humor, while Bateman fills in the lighter laughs. In fact there are many scenes in which Bateman threatens to steal the show. Bateman has this unique ability to put someone down while enthusiastically encouraging them. The scene where he goes over Hancock's image problems is a wonderful showcase for the actor, who gets to shower the hero with praise and criticism while Hancock just stands there and takes it.

"Hancock" is certainly not a perfect movie. Its flaws will be evident to anyone. Nor is it a lofty film. Despite its darker themes and sometimes serious nature, it remains entertaining and doesn't overstay its welcome. What keeps it balanced is its sharp focus on the central characters without many subplot distractions. It is a good summer blockbuster entry that fits right into its 4th of July weekend release slot.

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Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

That explains so much.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Mon, Jul 7, 2008, at 4:57 PM

is Mr. Wells really JJ Gates?

it makes perfect sense.

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Tue, Jul 8, 2008, at 7:00 PM

Wow! I'm a bit aghast at both the ubiquitous Mr. Gates's response to my comment and the mysterious Agent Scarn's response to his.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Tue, Jul 8, 2008, at 10:25 PM

the toxic avenger only gets a one-star rating? i am aghast at your ratings. lloyd kaufman is like a modern beethoven, a true talent.

-- Posted by Eff Ess on Thu, Jul 10, 2008, at 1:36 AM

I didn't see a review for The Toxic Avenger on here. well, andy's reviews aren't even really reviews. They are more like movie reports giving away entirely too much about characters, plot intricacies, and movie endings. While Andy may be the real JJ, I don't recommend reading his reviews if you are interested in watching the movies yourself. Thanks for ruining everything andy!

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Thu, Jul 10, 2008, at 12:35 PM

OK Eff Ess. The star ratings, which can be found on my official blog http://www.apennyinthewell.blogspot.com/, are not ratings of the films in the scale, but rather ratings of the characters or elements of the movies mentioned. They change with each individual review and relate directly to the movie being reviewed. For "Hancock" my star rating scale was based on a measure of the character of these anti-heroes in their self-titled projects. Yes, it's an obscure and convoluted one. Most of my star scales are simpler than that one.

My mysterious secret agent is certainly entitled to his opinion of my spoilers. I will admit I fight with the notion that my plot summaries are too detailed. They're my least favorite part of writing reviews, but are generally necessary to understand what I'm critiquing. I have to ask though, just what did I reveal in my "Hancock" review that was not already revealed in the trailer? The studio did an unusually good job not revealing any important plot details in their promotion of this film. I did mention there was a surprise but gave no hint as to what it was even though I saw it coming from the moment the two key characters involved with it met. Perhaps I've said too much again.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Thu, Jul 10, 2008, at 7:52 PM

I think your thoughts about movies are interesting and insightful. Sometimes they get me thinking about something I had not thought of before. Unless it is a movie I have absolutely no interest in seeing, I've learned not to read your movie comments until after I've seen the movie.

-- Posted by Mizzou Pride on Fri, Jul 11, 2008, at 9:15 AM

Honestly, I never read a movie review before I see the movie, unless it has been a few years since it has been in release. And I certainly don't read reviews of a movie before I write one on it. Most movies are best experienced without much knowledge of what you are about to see. Starting with a blank slate is the best way to experience a movie. I've mentioned it in my reviews before that expectations are often a movie's worst enemy.

The work of director M. Night Shyamalan is one of the best examples of this. Since people have gotten used to his style, critiques - both professional and from the public - have been unduly harsh against this talented director's output. He hasn't been able to replicate the successes of his early career films "The Sixth Sense" or "Unbreakable", but his movies are rarely as bad as the rhetoric against them these days. I have yet to see his latest "The Happening", so I can offer no opinion on its success.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Fri, Jul 11, 2008, at 6:40 PM


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A Penny in the Well
ANDREW D. WELLS
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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