“That’s ’cause I’ve been drinking, bitch!”
Hancock is the new critical punching bag of cinema. Except for in Australia, where for some reason the Sydney Morning Herald proposed the idea that a black superhero is clearly a metaphor for Barack Obama.
The thing about Hancock is that it’s not a godawful movie. It has some good ideas. The problem is that a lot of the film, technically, is executed in a “we want to make you sick without even having Cloverfield to justify it” fashion. Seriously, the camera cannot stop moving, even for ostensibly still shots. It’s like you’re watching the movie in a storm on the high seas, and Will Smith needs to drink to steady himself.
Hancock (Will Smith) is a “super hero”, who lives the life of a derelict and causes more damage than he prevents. The public generally hates him but, after not-quite-successful PR guy Ray (Jason Bateman) has his life saved by Hancock, they decide to team up to improve his public image. Problem is that Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron) simply doesn’t like the guy. There’s some other stuff besides about hero mythology that’s pretty good, too.
This isn’t “finally” a movie about a superhero whose actions have consequences – it’s about a superhero who just does whatever the Hell he feels like. That’s entirely different to a movie in which a superhero does whatever it takes to defeat evil and the story carefully ignores the inevitable fall out of his actions (although I really don’t know what movies Roger Ebert has been watching – what superhero movie in recent times hasn’t shown a superhero desperately trying to stop a speeding train while also preventing the death of a family of ducks that stands square in the right place to set a speeding train aside?). Hancock can take off and land without destroying the pavement all around him, but he can’t be bothered to do so. He could probably be kind and polite to the general citizenry, but he doesn’t feel the need.
Which is where the film’s strength does come in: beyond all of the “I’m gonna stick your head up his ass” bravado – although it’s not really bravado considering that he follows through with the threat – he’s a nice dude with a broken trust in himself and in humanity. When he’s rude, he’s funny, but when he reveals his damaged side it’s kind of warm and fuzzy. Jason Bateman is pretty good, if a little samey, but Smith and Charlize Theron carry the movie to its mostly logical, if a little contrived, conclusion. You’d think this sort of movie wouldn’t need, or wouldn’t use, a rich and illustrious backstory, but it does and it does it well. The problem with the nature of this genre is that they need final conflicts and amped up stakes, and I probably could have done without them – but by this point I’d almost completely forgotten about how shoddy the production values had been because the rest of it had turned out pretty well.
The beauty and the curse of Hancock is that it is set up in a way that a sequel would be utterly, utterly redundant. The problem is that if it makes as much money as they want it to, a sequel is inevitable.
PS. Obama ’08. Do it.