Sunday, August 17, 2008


For the moment, Peter Berg’s Hancock is a strong contender for Most Surprising Film of the Year.
Ostensibly, it’s about John Hancock (the global box office behemoth that is Will Smith), an apparently misanthropic superhero taken to bouts of drunken, destructive hi-jinx that only vaguely resemble the usual do-gooder acts of your average spandex set.
Hancock’s turbulent life takes a turn though, when he crosses paths with Ray Embrey (Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman, reunited with Berg, his director on The Kingdom), a struggling PR man who decides that the only way he can show his gratitude to the troubled hero is by rehabilitating his public image.
Ray’s decision to give Hancock an image do-over also brings the superhuman into the orbits of Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and son Aaron (Friday Night Lights’ Jae Head).
It’s from this basic set-up that Hancock takes off, and, much like one of the hero’s intoxicated flights, does some interesting and unexpected twists and turns over its surprisingly short, but awesomely sweet 92-minute running time.

As he is wont to do, Smith grabs the audience’s attention and sympathy with a moving and humourous performance as the embattled Hancock, informing the despised superman with both a gruff, powerful presence, and a bruised, brooding vulnerability.
And, alongside Smith, Theron and Bateman also submit noteworthy turns, grounding the narrative’s fantastic comic book premise with a tender (and, when required, comedic) humanity, making Hancock, among other things, a surprisingly moving film.

The blueprint for all of this though, is most definitely Hancock’s script, written by Vincent Ngo (who wrote for the BMW The Hire shorts and TV’s The Hunger) and X-Files alum Vince Gilligan; Gilligan’s involvement is one of the biggest reasons why I was curious to see Hancock.
Outlining a very atypical comic book-inspired film, Gilligan and Ngo’s script constantly subverts expectations, taking Hollywood’s current summer tentpole of choice—the superhero film—and playing some daring games with its conventions, ultimately bringing it to places—both emotional and imaginative—it hasn’t really been to before.
It also hits, rather spot-on, the notions that true heroism requires a certain amount of self-control and self-sacrifice, and that a dream to change the world for the better is never a bad thing, no matter how distant and unrealistic it may seem.

In this day and age when comic book superheroes have become big budget mainstream entertainment, Hancock is a wonderful antidote to the multitude of less-than-inspired cinematic spandex adventures that tend to crowd the multiplex, middling movies where every mask and cape is merely another tool designed to ring the global box office tills and move some merchandise.
Hancock is also a superhero film for our cynical times, an enjoyable rollercoaster ride that entertains, moves, and inspires.

In bucking the trend and going for the untried and untested, Hancock is exactly the sort of superhero film that Hollywood needs more of, if it hopes to keep the movement vibrant and alive.
Could I have asked for more? Yes. I could have done with some more running time, so we could get to see more character reactions and interactions on screen, making the narrative’s emotional arc a smoother ride.
Still, even with that imperfection, Hancock is a pleasant, solid surprise.
After all, better this than an Nth installment of some tired, overextended spandex franchise, right?

(Hancock U.S. and Japanese OS’s courtesy of [designs by BLT & Associates]; images courtesy of

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