In Will Smith's last film, I Am Legend, his character's efforts led to the salvation of mankind. In Hancock, despite having superpowers, Smith's efforts only lead to his salvation.
I love film critic Roger Ebert's comments about the movie. Ebert said he enjoyed the fact that finally we get a superhero movie where the superhero is accountable for his destruction. In films like Superman or Spider-Man, those high flyers caused the countless destruction of big city buildings, streets and vehicles, and no one ever says anything.
Yeah, it's all in an effort to save people from dying, but wouldn't it be interesting to see a superhero slapped with a bill or perhaps a lawsuit? For example, Hancock, Smith's superman-like incarnation, in the opening, stops a van-filled with gun-toting maniacs. In the process, he causes $9 million in damage to the city, which includes highways and skyscrapers mangled.
Stopping a bank robbery or pulling people out of burning apartments is all well and good, but, in the end, Hancock is hurting people, hurting them where it counts, their wallets. Millions of taxpayer funds are lost because of him.
This idea was hinted at in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero, but only in the form of an angry police chief yelling at the hero. Schwarzenegger didn't have the superpowers of Smith, but his Slater probably left just as much mayhem as Hancock. The recent Bruce Willis Die Hard flick and the recent James Bond adventure are up there as well in terms of the amount of damage their characters cause.
The question becomes how much waste can these heroes lay down before people stop appreciating them. How many things can McClane or Bond blow-up before people, especially property owners revolt? Again, they're stopping human deaths, but, when does the financial toll start to take its own toll, especially when a guy does it with a worse personality than McClane, Bond, or Slater.
In this film, directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom), Smith's Hancock tests the city of Los Angeles' limits. After all, it is their tax money. Smith's flying, super-strong Hancock leaves a trail of damage that would make L.A. look like it had been hit by Hurricane Katrina, if left unchecked.
This is compounded by the fact that Hancock is an alcoholic. He's drunk most of the time. He's slovenly, unshaven, unkempt, and he curses like a sailor, even in front of young children. Don't worry, children aren't scared to curse right back at him. Unlike Clark Kent, he's too lazy to get a job. Therefore, he's fortress of solitude is no crystal mansion. It's literally trailer trash.
People hate him because of his jerk-like behavir. Cable news TV show hosts like Nancy Grace are even calling for him to be put in prison. What Hancock needs is a makeover. In steps public relations expert Ray Embrey, played by Jason Bateman (Juno and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium).
Embrey teaches or tries to teach Hancock social etiquette not to be rude or foul-mouthed. He even gives Hancock tips on how to rescue and even how to fly gracefully. He even suggests a wardrobe change, but when Embrey presents a skintight, spandex suit a la Marvel or DC Comics, Hancock gives him a look that says his Queer Eye isn't for this Straight Guy.
Embrey doesn't give up. He brings Hancock home to eat spaghetti and meatballs. Embrey tries to get his wife and son in on the act. His son takes an instant liking to the gruff superhero. Yet, Embrey's wife, Mary, played by Oscar-winner, Charlize Theron (Monster and The Italian Job) doesn't.
And that's really the appeal to this movie. It's that you have a hero who's unappealing. What's great about Will Smith is that initially he plays that for all it's worth, and it's refreshing because he plays it as probably any normal person would who woke up one day with superpowers.
Not everyone, if they woke up with superpowers, would go the moral, high ground route, and if they did become crime fighters, who's to say they'd all be smooth and virtuous, or even happy about it.
It's funny, but there's a moment when a reference is made to Wolverine who up until now was the embodiment of the jerk hero. No. Wolverine wasn't a drunk. But, like Hancock, Wolverine suffered amnesia and exhibited extreme anti-social behavior, even when trying to fight crime.
It's only a shame that Hancock's history and origins aren't as interesting or well thought out as Wolverine's. The explanation of how Hancock came to be is hollow and very much empty at best. The surprising twist, which sparks the explanation, is a good one, but the explanation is so lame as to diminish it.
However, Smith delivers a fun and funny ride that you can't help but want to go with him. He's extremely watchable.
Four Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for some intense violence and language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.