Colin Browne’s not so favourite not so anti-hero, Hancock.
Will Smith’s film career has been defined by blockbusters (Independence Day) and flops (Wild Wild West), but one thing it has never been is raunchy. Hancock, the newest effort from director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Very Bad Things), seemed to be a legitimate vehicle for Smith to challenge not only his chops as an actor, but his entire public persona. Unfortunately, any initial spark in the film gets pasteurized down to a completely palatable, ridiculously expensive, 93-minute diversion of your time.
Conceptually, Hancock provides an ambitious take on the superhero genre, with Smith playing John Hancock—an ass-grabbing, foul-mouthed boozer who looks like a regular guy except, as the movie reminds us, “he’s not one of us.” His powers are of your basic variety: flight, an extremely high vertical range, impeccable strength, and apparent immortality, (hint: this becomes a major source of eye-rolling later in the film), but he doesn’t receive much respect from his fellow citizens. The damage caused by Hancock in the wake of his good deeds has become a not-so-subtle source of resentment in the community.
At the suggestion of young public relations executive Ray (Jason Bateman), Hancock decides to go to jail as basically a PR move, such that the next time there is a major disaster to quell, or robbery to foil, the world will realize they had been taking him for granted and can not survive alone, thus welcoming him back into their open, desperate arms.
Perfect! Just what any city needs—a passive-aggressive superhero playing mind games on the public.
Before proceeding further, allow me to put this film into some financial context: its budget has been reported at just over 150 million dollars—that’s more than half of what it took Peter Jackson to make the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more than 15 times what it cost to make the original Star Wars. Sound absurd? Expecting more from Hancock? Fortunately, this is where you, the ticket-buyer can make a difference. Will you allow yourself to be baited by the promise of an f-bomb dropping Will Smith? Can you withstand the pull of mediocre CGI and a bevy of things-going-into-ass-jokes?
As a comedy, Hancock scores points in the arena of mild shock value and gross-out humour, but can’t contain its subversive tone for long. A couple of nasty quips (“That’s cuz I been drinkin’, bitch”) and some amusing sight gags are wasted as the narrative expands into all-out hospital gunfights with swooping orchestral tones and rain-soaked slow-mo death scenes.
The convenient unraveling of a tortured love story involving Ray’s Wife (Charlize Theron) and some hokey grasps at epic drama further accentuate the paint-by-numbers grandiosity that is familiar territory for Smith. As you might expect, this call for emotional investment from the audience doesn’t quite work in the same film which offers graphic new meaning to the phrase, “get your head out of your ass”.
Adding to the frustration is the blatant marketing of Will Smith himself. Hancock marks the fifth of Smith’s films to be released on the weekend of July 4th—Independence Day—with Smith once again playing the role of American hero, all the way down to his transformation into an eagle while defending the country. If this weren’t enough, the character of John Hancock begins to feel increasingly like a thinly-veiled representation of Smith’s ego: he’s afraid to admit he’s been hurt by a fickle public, and, in retaliation, has resorted to making no more blockbusters until there can be love again, unconditionally.
In the end, while not completely unenjoyable (it helps if you have free passes and gift cards with popcorn money on ‘em) Hancock fails to offer any worthwhile investment in the fantastic or realistic departments, and it leaves the whole thing feeling forced.
If this film reveals any kind of challenge at all for Smith, it’s in finding increasingly outlandish ways to fake-save the world while continuing to convince us we all should bear witness to it.
Hancock is now in theatres. Call for showtimes and prices.