- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
f the audience reaction to “Hancock” is any indication, Will Smith’s box office dominance of the, um, Independence Day weekend is not in jeopardy…but perhaps it should be. By all accounts, Smith is a talented actor and extremely likable guy, but a quick glance of his filmography brings a startling point to light: the man hasn’t made a truly exceptional movie in a long, long time. He has made many crowd-pleasing movies ranging in quality from decent to good, but a great movie? Hasn’t happened in a while – some would argue that it has yet to happen – and charisma can only get you so far. While it would be Schadenfreude to wish failure upon the man, you can’t help but think that one box office disappointment might veer him closer to the path of movie righteousness.
Smith is John Hancock, a reluctant superhero who would rather drink himself stupid than stop crime. Even when he begrudgingly accepts his role as crime fighter, he brings a bottle of booze with him, and his lack of focus – combined with some anger management issues – causes untold millions in property damage, leading the residents of Los Angeles to view him as more of a pest than a hero. After saving the life of PR expert Ray (Jason Bateman), Ray makes Hancock his pet project, determined to make the city love him again. Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), however, is worried about the negative influence Hancock’s boorish, overly aggressive behavior will have on their son Aaron (Jae Head).
There is much, much more to the story than this – and it is to the immense credit of Columbia’s marketing department that they have kept it under wraps up to this point – but to say more would mean ruining what is ultimately the best and worst thing about “Hancock.” What begins as a clever twist soon causes more problems than it solves, and you can’t help but wonder how this idea ever made it through the first draft of the script, especially when Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) is on board as an executive producer. But hey, Goldsman wrote “Batman and Robin,” so clearly he has a blind eye to what makes a superhero movie work.
Peter Berg’s direction does not help matters, either. This is easily the biggest movie he’s ever made, and his lack of experience shows. His attempts to keep things intimate look awkward and forced (and at times out of focus), and when he implements an action movie standard like the endlessly spinning Michael Bay perimeter shot, he uses it at a time that does not require such a shot, and then overuses it to boot. The CGI work is lacking as well. If there is one thing that Berg gets right, it is the performances by the main cast. Smith clearly loves playing the bad guy (or at least the good guy with a filthy mouth), and Bateman and Theron, reunited for the first time since her brief stint on “Arrested Development,” work well together, but as funny as Bateman is, it is abundantly clear which of the two is the better actor. Indeed, Theron saves the final act from going completely down the tubes.
This is roughly the sixth or seventh time a great Will Smith movie has existed within the reach of an average one, which begs the thought: imagine how big of a star Smith would be if he made better movies. He’s already a megastar. If he raised the caliber of his work just a touch, he’d be sworn in as President of the United States without a vote (don’t laugh; if he ran for office, he’d win in a landslide). “Hancock” has its good points, but a far, far better movie than this was theirs for the taking.
Unrated Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
Sony may have missed out on a great opportunity to explain why “Hancock” is so different from the original script (Vincent Ngo’s “Tonight, He Comes,” which can be read here) by including a commentary with the film’s director and producers, but the single-disc release still features an impressive collection of bonus material, including a Blu-ray-only picture-in-picture video diary that runs throughout the length of the film. In fact, it’s even better than a commentary in some ways because it shows the cast and crew actually making the film. And for anything that might have been skimmed over, there are six more production featurettes ranging from pre-viz (“Seeing the Future”) and visual effects (“Building a Better Hero”) to production and costume design (“Home Life” and “Suiting Up,” respectively). Plus, there’s an unrated cut of the film with an additional ten minutes of footage and a digital copy for those that want to take Will Smith's latest blockbuster with them on the road.