Hancock is a disappointment.
A film that starts off with the promise of being a darker, edgier examination of the superhero trope, only to see that promise cavalierly thrown away, Hancock is nothing more than a meandering, confused, mess of a film.
Hancock starts off with a great premise- Hancock (Will Smith) is a skid row superhero, super strong, invulnerable and able to fly. He rouses himself from self-pity-fueled drunken stupors long enough to wreck an incredible amount of property damage while trying to save the day. Unfortunately, he has no people skills and seems oblivious to the damage he leaves in his wake. After saving the life of a down-on-his-heels public relations executive (Jason Bateman), Hancock finds himself on the receiving end of an unwanted PR makeover. Soon, he finds himself rising the public’s estimation, but he still has some unanswered questions about himself he must address.
One can’t help but look at the film’s nearly decade long trek from typewriter to silver screen to find the culprit in its ultimate failure. Not every script that goes through multiple writers and directors looking to put their own spin on the material crash and burn once they finally make it in front of the cameras. The Wizard Of Oz and Casablanca are two famous examples of films that passed through numerous creative hands while on their way to becoming classics.
Not so with Hancock.
For the second time in less than a year, Will Smith has starred in a film project that has been kicking around Hollywood for some time. And like I Am Legend before it, any interesting edge Hancock may have had has long since been eroded away by a stream of constant rewrites and studio notes designed to make the film appeal to as broad an audience as possible. (Coincidentally, both movies sport blockbuster price tags but clock in at an anemic 90 minutes run time.) What was once a dark comedy now has moments of that definitely trade off of Smith’s nice-guy screen persona. Hancock’s transformation from drunk to nice guy happens too fast. At other points, the film wants to pull at your heart strings, but does so in the most obvious and cloying of fashions. With no strong villain for Hancock to be opposing, one would hope for some interesting character introspection, but the film delivers nothing new.
What is left is a hodgepodge of scenes – some good, some bad – that don’t ever add to be a cohesive whole film. In addition to its basic premise, Hancock does have an interesting idea or two. It treats Hancock’s superpowers with a strong sense of realism. When he takes off and lands, it does some damage to the ground, in accordance to that old junior high physics doctrine of every action having an equal and opposite reaction. But these smart bits are lost amidst pointless scenes and the numerous tonal changes the film goes through as it see-saws back and forth between dark comedy and mawkish sentimentality.
The movie also stumbles when it comes to basic story telling techniques. Not all superhero films need to explain point by point the backstory of the hero’s origins, how they acquired their powers and motivations. In fact, Hancock starts out intriguingly by not doing just that, by having him amnesic over the issue. However, the film’s entire third act depends on things that stem out from that unknown origin, including a weakness Hancock never knew he had. You might not need to know that Superman is from the planet Krypton for most of his adventures, but when someone else from the planet shows up, it becomes vital story information. While there is a character who explains some of this to him, the answers are incredibly vague and not really much of an answer at all. Instead, they come off as nothing more than a quick rationalization for the film’s entire second half, and not very well thought through at that. It’s as if the movie shrugged to itself and said, “Eh, it’s only superheroes. It doesn’t matter that much.” For a film that started with such a promising and adult premise, to show such disregard is the ultimate betrayal of itself and its potential.