Hancock is that weird kid who sits in the front row of every high school class. The kid who doesn’t know he’s a social outcast and whose parents have convinced him that by simply being different he’ll earn everyone’s respect. The kid who comes to school one day wearing a bowler hat, and then is surprised to discover himself laying face down in the mud while everyone in school takes turns kicking his ass. No matter how much society might tell you being different is the best, we all know it isn’t true. Being different only works if whatever you’re doing different happens to be cool. It doesn’t work, if what you’re doing sucks. What Hancock is doing, definitely sucks.
See this isn’t the movie you’ve seen promoted in all the ads. That movie might have been kind of fun. The trailers have told you Will Smith plays a drunk and disorderly superhero who stumbles across the city skyline wreaking havoc and destroying public property while he makes half-hearted attempts to capture would-be evil doers and save people who hate him nearly as much as he hates them. Hancock is only that movie for about the first ten minutes, and even during those ten minutes it’s clear that something is amiss.
Maybe it’s the music that’s all wrong. That’s the first sign that something isn’t going right. It’s as if the score can’t quite figure out what movie it’s in. One minute it’s heavy, dramatic adventure music, the next it’s gritty rap, the next it’s the soundtrack from a wacky, screwball comedy, leftover score from When Harry Met Sally or maybe Weekend at Bernie’s. The film’s tone waffling only goes worse, as it soon abandons the premise which got us all in theaters in favor of something so inexplicably strange it stops being unique and simply starts being stupid. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to discuss without draping this review in spoiler warnings. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.
Things start to go really bad though, after an incident in which Hancock saves a man from a train, and settles in with a Public Relations consultant played by Jason Bateman. Bateman makes it his mission to clean up Hancock’s image, and make people love him. Hancock agrees, though Bateman’s wife, played by Charlize Theron, seems less than thrilled by her husband’s mission. You’ll be less than thrilled too, since cleaning up Hancock means eliminating all the angry angst which made him possibly interesting. In its place is a plot, in which we embark on a quest to uncover Hancock’s origins.
Those origins are quite simply the worst idea anyone has ever had, but even the worst idea ever had can sometimes be saved by great action sequences. Or if not saved, at least punctuated by them. It’s easier to forget all that awful plot if you can watch something blow up. We’re a simple people, and anyone who can’t admit that stuff going boom is good, is probably a little self-deluded. Unfortunately, deluded audience or not Hancock lacks the special effects prowess necessary to fall back on big, superhero action junk. In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d suspect that halfway through making this thing they simply ran out of cash.
Most of the film’s action moments involve coming up with elaborate reasons to avoid showing us anything interesting. For example, when Hancock lands he throws up a massive cloud of dirt. We’re told it’s simply because he’s a jerk, but I think the real reason is that the cloud saves the film’s lazy effects team from having to manage the difficult transition from CGI flying Will Smith to real life standing Will Smith. Conveniently, they can hide all of his CGI landings behind a cloud of soot. Or here’s another example of how the film goes out of its way to make sure the audience is cheated. Hancock is sent in to take out bank robbers. He lifts a car. Do we see it? Nope. We see the car moving from an angle which obscures our superhero, allowing us only to see his booties protruding from beneath the hood. He enters the bank to take out the bad guys. Do we see him come crashing in? No we hear a crash, the camera pans to reveal a hole and there’s Hancock standing in front of it with a shit eating grin. The movie’s effects seem to fall into two distinct categories: mediocre CGI and soul crushing disappointment featuring a smiling Will Smith. Note to Will: Just because you’re grinning doesn’t make what happened good.
I don’t understand what’s going on here. Isn’t Peter Berg supposed to be a better director than this? I saw The Kingdom. I loved The Kingdom. Friday Night Lights was well put together. The Rundown was a lot of fun. Berg knows what he’s doing behind a camera. How did it come to this? It would be easy to blame some sort of studio interference, and if he has any sense he’ll hit the talk show circuit and start doing that very thing. If he does, I’m not going to believe it. Studio interference or not, I can’t see any way in which this movie ever could have worked. What was Berg thinking? Has his entire career up till now been a total sham? Is he morphing into Uwe Boll? It’s not his actors who have gone wrong. Jason Bateman gives another one of those great, sly performances we’re used to getting from him. Theron and Smith’s characters are a vapid wasteland of nothing, but it’s not because they aren’t talented. We know they’re better than this. Berg’s direction though, is clearly a mess and his failure to recognize what a turd this script was from the outset is nearly unforgivable, particularly in light of the fact that he seems to have gone out of his way to make it an even bigger disaster by editing it with a pair of garden shears and shooting it as if he’s directing from a secret location miles away from the reality of his set.
Hancock is a bunch of strange, vague ideas crammed into a movie with nowhere to go and absolutely nothing to show us. There’s no real villain to provide conflict, no real character arc to follow. It’s just an endless series of partially connected concepts, many of which serve absolutely no purpose. It’s one big cul-de-sac. Even though I’ve seen it, I still have no idea what this movie is. Scratch that, I guess I do have a pretty good idea. It’s a confused, cockamamied piece of garbage. Maybe it’s not the worst movie of the year, maybe it’s not even the worst by Will Smith, but it’s easily the most frustrating and certainly the most irritating. It’s brought down by its own out of whack ambition, its desire to stand out from the crowd while still remaining a part of it. Sometimes different is better, sometimes different is the kid who gets a kick me sign stuck on his back and his head flushed in the crapper. Hancock is a swirly waiting to happen.