Cinema review: Hancock

July 24 2008 at 10:06 pm (Cinema reviews)

Summer cinema has become increasingly predictable and this season’s superhero-fest is the most chockablock in recent years, what with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight vying for our attention. But while this trio focus on well established characters, Hancock seems to have come from out of nowhere.

Will Smith plays John Hancock, a very different kind of superhero – a potty-mouthed bum who reluctantly saves lives when he’d rather be sleeping off a bottle of whisky. When he rescues idealistic PR man Ray Embrey (a very cosy turn from Jason Bateman) from coming face-to-face with a freight train, he repays the supercharged sot by giving his image a revamp. But when Hancock meets Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), sparks start to fly.

Hancock appears fully formed on the screen, snoring on a street bench more superhobo than superhero. For a character so unknown, it’s a brave not to fill the first hour with the story of his origin, a common mistake in this now familiar subgenre. It’s an interesting idea if not altogether unique (The Incredibles anyone?) and a refreshing take for a while but like so many films of this kind it runs out of steam very quickly.

The first half is a pure comedy with a few fun action set pieces and some great laughs. But then there’s nowhere else the story can go, so it turns into a completely different movie. Out go the laughs and in comes the back story (it had to be there eventually), an unnecessary plot twist, an incomprehensible third act and a frankly forgettable ending. Strangely, when the film is dealing with fairly weighty issues such as alcoholism, prison and the tragedy of loneliness, it’s pretty funny. When the film starts getting silly it seems to stare at the floor like a grumpy teenager.

In any other genre, this kind of conflicted character would generate huge drama, but Hancock’s struggle for love and respect seems half-assed. Whereas Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman franchise successfully shows us that a superhero’s greatest challenge is battling his own inner demons, here the absence of a decent, worthy criminal is conspicuous.

The overall flaw is that despite a good performance by Smith, one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, this film feels small. Just like Iron Man, it’s the big action scenes that let the film down. The dramatic shift in tone knocks the film irreparably off balance making it feel like the little film that could. Well, the little film that couldn’t quite.

Rating: 3/5
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