01 July 2008
It’s Fourth of July weekend, and that can mean only one thing: A new Will Smith movie is opening.
It’s coincidence more than anything else that has so linked him to this particular time of year because his movies open big no matter when they are released. He is as close to a sure thing at the box office as we will ever see. Whether it’s science fiction (Independence Day, Men in Black), drama (The Pursuit of Happyness), romantic comedy (Hitch), mindless action (Bad Boys) or a post-apocalyptic zombie movie (I Am Legend), moviegoers will pay to see Will Smith.
With Hancock, he tackles the booming superhero genre—but not without a twist.
Smith is John Hancock, a man with superpowers who woke up 80 years ago in a Miami hospital with no memory of who he is or where he came from. A typical day for Hancock, who looks more homeless than superhero, starts with him waking up on a bench at bus stop, hungover or maybe still drunk.
He tries to use his powers to do good—kind of. We see him help police get the bad guys in a high-speed chase, but his carelessness results in millions of dollars in damage to the city. He doesn’t care much for the people he aids, and the feeling is mutual.
Ray Embrey, however, has a different reaction when Hancock saves his life: He thanks him, repeatedly, and invites him to his home for dinner with his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and son Aaron (Joe Head). Ray, an ambitious public relations man, wants to rehabilitate Hancock’s image. “People don’t like you, Hancock,” he says. The equally blunt response: “Do I look like I care what people think?” But Ray’s earnestness eventually wins him over.
Hancock, directed by Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) and written by Vy Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, is at its best during its first hour or so. That’s when it feels new and exciting, when the likable Smith is foul-mouthed and apathetic. His take on a superhero is nearly as fresh as Robert Downey Jr.’s in Iron Man.
Berg, with his cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, employs the intimate, handheld, Michael Mann-like shooting he used in The Kingdom, which allows the drama to play as effectively as the comedy. He also benefits from Smith, who is not only a box office giant but an accomplished actor. He finds the soul in Hancock and we root for him even when he is as despicable as the villains in most superhero movies. Berg also has the wonderful Bateman, whose subtle sensibilities are a winning match for his directing style, and Theron, whose at-first-thankless role evolves into much more.
A subplot involving escaped bad guys Hancock helped put behind bars is given surprisingly little time to develop—a curious decision considering the movie clocks in at only 92 minutes. Consequently, the final action set piece suffers and the ending is more of a shrug than a bang.
But for most of its running time, Hancock is a refreshing piece of cinema that should be another solid summer hit for Smith. A word of warning, however: The script pushes the PG-13 rating as far as anything I have seen, so this movie might not be one for the youngsters.
(Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language. 92 minutes.)