Film review by: Witney Seibold



            In the mid 1980s, Marvel Comics published a short-running title called “Damage Control” which dealt with the adventures of three ordinary human begins who work for an agency devoted to cleaning up the messes left behind by superhero’s battles. Smashed cars, torn-up pavement, giant robot corpses and the like had to be accounted for somewhere, and it was up to Damage Control to figure out how that sort of thing was billed, and who was culpable (of course, larger mysteries came to light). That’s a clever idea.

            “Hancock” is the first superhero movie to deal with this sort of thing. Sure, it’s exciting to see Iron Man duke it out with (and arise triumphant from) another Iron Man on a freeway, flipping cars and punching holes through the Jersey Turnpike, but what happens the next day when the cars are still smashed, and the freeway is still damaged? Well, according to “Hancock,” you gain a reputation as a careless asshole, despite the good you may do. This is also a clever idea. It’s too bad “Hancock” doesn’t really work.


            Hancock (Will Smith) is an L.A.-based superhero with powers like Superman; he can fly, has super-strength, and is invulnerable. However his heavy drinking, ornery attitude, and careless rescue techniques (he flies through a lot of buildings) have earned him far more infamy than fame. One day he saves a floundering-yet-honest PR man named Ray (Jason Bateman, handling the silly material very well) from a speeding train. In return Ray asks that he become Hancock’s PR man, in order to turn his reputation around. Hancock goes to prison, attends AA meetings, attends anger management classes, and emerges months later a more wholesome type of superhero. All is well for a bit, but then there is a secret involving Ray’s lovely wife (the lovely Charlize Theron) that is eventually revealed. It’s not for nothing that she is constantly giving Hancock some very meaningful glances. Hancock doesn’t remember anything from before 85 years ago, so it’s possible they knew each other. There’s also an escaped con (Eddie Marsan) lurking about.


            The setup is clever, the storytelling is competent, and the pacing is brisk and inviting (the film only runs about 90 minutes). Tonally, however, “Hancock” is all over the place. It can’t decide if it wants Hancock to be lovable or hard-edged, so we’re given scenes of both. It can’t decide if it’s a comedy, a meaningful romantic treatise, a superhero satire, or what. It also seems to want, at times, to be a R-rated film. It settles for a PG-13-rated film that copiously uses the word “asshole.”


            And it can’t decide which story it wants to tell. Once Hancock is cleaned up, his entire “reputation” issue evaporates, that film become preoccupied with another storyline entirely.


            I think a lot of its atonality comes from John Powell’s original score, and the music selection in general. I’ve heard it said by critics wiser than I that a good film score should either merely indicate what emotions to feel, or not be noticed at all. Powell’s score is not only noticeable, but downright obstructive. It pounds away inappropriate feelings at weird times, making intimate moments sound like we should be flinging trucks through the air, and comically violent moments into tragically violent moments. If you’re taking a class in film music, “Hancock” would make for an interesting study into how to do it wrong.


            Actor-turned-director Peter Berg is improving with every film (he did “Friday Night Lights” and “The Kingdom”), but was still best when sticking to the horrifying situation tragedy of “Very Bad Things.” He seems to be constantly itching to head down darker paths than his films demand. Perhaps he should be allowed to go down those paths on his next project, rather than having to deal with a likeable fellow like Will Smith.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 8:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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