Dear Will Smith:
I say to you, Will, the same thing I recently said to Seth Rogen about his recent decision to appear in the (so I’ve heard) execrable Observe and Report: you’re a naturally likable guy. That’s why you’re one of the biggest movie stars in the world — because people like you. You’re a good-looking man, you’re obviously smart as hell, you’re filled almost to overflowing with charisma. So why in the world would you want to appear in a movie in which you’re so not likable — especially in a disaster like Hancock? I’d understand if this movie were a matter of your trying to stretch yourself as an actor; that desire would be and is commendable. You’ve made plenty of movies for exactly that reason, and you’ve earned yourself two Oscar nominations so far for it.
But this? This isn’t stretching, Will; Hancock represents exactly the sort of SFX-laden blockbuster which has been your bread and butter for the last decade. Were you so desperate to play a superhero — any superhero — that you thought this was a good choice? It wasn’t, Will. Hancock‘s big draws are A) you (wasted, since your charisma and intelligence were so damped down), B) Charlize Theron (almost entirely wasted) and C) big special effects sequences. Those the movie has in excess, but they’re not even close to well-done enough or compelling enough to make up for its almost complete lack of humanity.
There’s some massive worldbuilding fail going on in Hancock: the entire story is rooted in ideas which clearly weren’t thought through very well. The world of Hancock is one in which Smith’s John Hancock is, in theory, the only super-powered person on the planet, yet there’s no real discussion of the implications of that reality either for him or for the world. We know that Hancock occasionally begrudgingly helps stop some crimes, destroys lots of property, and the people of Los Angeles hate him. But why did this happen, what does any of it mean? What does it mean to have one super-powered person in an ordinary world? Yes, we get a nod to “it’s lonely to be Hancock,” but there’s no serious effort put into what it really means to be this man. You may argue that director Peter Berg doesn’t want to get into those discussions, and you’d probably be right; but avoiding the questions made the movie feel much more lightweight to me — and again, that might well have been Berg’s intent, to produce light, brainpower-lite summer entertainment.
I know that I’m getting dangerously close to violating my own rules here. I’m putting forth what I think the movie should have been trying to do and not simply accepting what the movie gave me. But dammit, this is a Will Smith superhero movie — he should’ve known better, should’ve done better.
(out of a possible five)
See, Hancock feels like a superhero movie created by people who don’t know, like or understand superheroes…and I know that in Smith’s case, that’s absolutely not true. He’s one of the most famous comic book fans in the world, and surely should have been capable of making a better superhero movie than this. Hancock features exactly two likable characters (neither of whom sports any superpowers), a metric crap-ton of property damage, and very little to no logic or sense. Things happen without consequence, or with inconsistent consequence: for example, Hancock’s disregard for property or, from the looks of it, human life drive the first half of the movie’s plot and what tiny bit of characterization Smith and Berg attempt, but a later massive CGI rampage through downtown L.A. causes not so much as a ripple in the movie’s world. Again, there’s that unshakable feeling of “not thought through very well.”
The one bright spot to me — and sadly not even a bright spot throughout — was, entirely unsurprisingly, Jason Bateman. His character, while entirely unbelievable as a hotshot public relations exec, also provided most of the comedy and likability in the first two thirds of the movie. After the movie’s Big Shocking Twist, however, Bateman seemed to have no idea what to do with his character — and it was at that point that his reactions and feelings should have been most important to the story. I place the blame there on director Berg, because Batemen didn’t even try; had he tried to act like a human being and done so unconvincingly, I might have blamed Bateman, but when there’s no effort whatsoever, that seems more like the fault of the director.
I’m going to give you a Mulligan on this one, Will. I think you’ve got a quality superhero movie in you, but Hancock certainly wasn’t it. Of course, the $227 million domestic this movie took in means your next superhero flick will probably be Hancock 2: Hancockier, so I have a sad feeling that quality superhero movie inside won’t ever see the light of day.