Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hancock (2008) Review

What? It’s a little tight

When I first heard of Hancock and saw the trailers, I thought it had the potential to be another winner in the ever-expanding superhero genre. The idea of satirizing the superhero mythos was a good one, and with Will Smith playing the drunk and cranky Hancock, it looked like it would be pretty funny too. But as we all know, good ideas can only be really appreciated if the execution lives up to them.
Plot Synopsis: Despite all crimes that he has helped put a stop to, Hancock is widely despised by the citizens of L.A. His blatant disregard for public property and the safety of others has pretty much made him an outcast who may be better off if he just stops trying to help. But after he saves Ray Embrey from being crushed by an oncoming train, Ray believes that if he can clean up Hancock’s act then he will be better viewed by the public and be considered a true hero. Ray’s wife Mary on the other hand doesn’t see any hope in Hancock and believes he’s a lost cause.

Well let’s get the good out of the way first; Will Smith was actually the best thing about the movie. Rather than play off his trademark suave and slick look, Smith goes completely in the other direction. Hancock is crass, rude, and just plain sketchy all around. He destroys highways in a drunken stupor, goes about his business in a lazy manner, and doesn’t care if he curses to kids (or launches them high in the air). It’s a refreshing turn from the norm, and presents a fresh take on being a hero in the big city. A lot of the humor also seems to come from the little subtleties that Smith expresses in the moment, whether it’s his drunkenness or facial expressions, which makes the gags even funnier. Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron do well as Ray and Mary, each with their own plans on dealing with Hancock in the world. Although Ray really sees a potential good person inside Hancock, Mary just wants to stay as far away from him as possible (for reasons I’ll let you find out for yourself). Director Peter Berg also stages and handles the action competently. There’s nothing memorable, but the sense of destruction and chaos provide the requisite thrills we expect from action movies. The only letdown is a major one on one battle about two thirds of the way through thats merely an over the top CGI brawl without much excitement.

Unfortunately though, Berg's gritty style is one of the things that bothered me about the movie a lot. The shaky cam look works ok in the beginning where Hancock is still a booze guzzling drunk, but after a while it feels unsuitable for the movie and the extreme close ups are bothersome. The movie also changes its tone at the halfway point, moving from wryly humorous to very dramatic. The ending best exemplifies this: as it’s way too dark and serious and doesn’t mesh well with everything else that preceded it. Had the movie been longer, it couldv'e made this change more fleshed out and subtle, but instead it comes so sudden that it's distracting. There’s a big plot twist at halfway that, while surprising, feels really unnecessary and ridiculous in the long run. The movie also lacks a strong villain for Hancock to do battle with and this doesn't make for a satisfying foil for our hero (the boring bank robber character doesn't count).

But the biggest problem with the movie is the pacing and running time. At a scant ninety minutes, the movie is way too short for everything the story tries to fit in. Character development feels very rushed and abrupt, and the stories explanation for Hancock’s existence (and the twist) feels half-baked and unclear. I heard the movie had to be cut down from a two hour R rated version to get PG-13, so hopefully the DVD could help out with this, but as it is the movie just moves too fast and tight for it’s own good.

Okay, so with all the script rewrites, re-shoots, and editing issues, Hancock isn’t the disaster many predicted. But you just can’t shake the feeling that it once was a much better and interesting movie that has seen too much tampering with.


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