Comic Book Movies 101: Hancock

Hancock is an alcoholic superhero who sexually harasses, makes lurid insinuations and has a penchant for sticking his enemies heads up someone else’s backside (particularly if anyone calls him an asshole). He is at times a complex and comical superhero character.

When I first watched Hancock, which is a superhero film neither based on any long-standing comic book or source material, I wasn’t that keen on it. But I was curious enough to revisit it as there was something intriguing about the premise. But, in the main, it’s an interesting mess due to its slightly uneven tone.

It begins with a refreshingly interesting and adult take on the Superman myth; just what would the Man Of Steel be like if he tired to have sex with a normal human (a subject of endless debates and controversy among geeks, I know I’ve wondered myself) or if he was a raging alcoholic?

The film kicks off with a rib tickling opening action sequence involving Hancock flying under the influence of several bottles of whiskey. It’s made all the more funny by having the song Move Bitch (by Ludicrous) playing over the action as Hancock narrowly avoids flying into a plane, then flys into a highway sign and destroys several cop cars. You can tell director Peter Berg is having gleeful fun in depicting this character. At one point there’s even a moment when he has to ask a wounded police officer if he has permission to touch her body to move her during a firefight. With a knowing wink and a nudge, it’s making fun our politically correct society.

What also makes this film a little better than some comic book fare (despite it not being based on any particular comic book) is that the effects sequences and CGI is used to enhance the story. There are very few moments when it feels out of place. It’s also refreshing to see Will Smith tackle a complex and darkly comic role for once. The audience genuinely goes from hating and despising him as a waste of space, to seeing him mature into a hero.

Unfortunately the midway point is where the film falters and distracts from the enjoyable first half. A one-dimensional villain is introduced as a kind of nemesis to Hancock during a bank heist, and it feels like hee’s been shoehorned in at the last moment. After the bank sequence the next set piece feels overly outlandish, detracting from the superb set-up as it falls into the curse of the summer blockbuster – full of CGI-filled craziness, biffs, bangs and booms. Which when compared to the more practical moments within the film, just leaves it feeling a bit uneven and over the top.

Thankfully this is only a minor hiccup in an otherwise original and quite different take on the invincible superhero myth. This is down to an engaging story with characters that you genuinely care about. There’s a feeling that Berg is trying to keep it from becoming just another Hollywood moneyspinner, particularly as he tries to keep it as intimate as he can for a superhero flick. This is very much a character piece which makes it all the more frustrating when that midway lull happens, and it just becomes a bit generic.

The rapport between Smith and (the always fantastic) Jason Bateman also helps to add that extra almost impromptu feel to the majority of their scenes. When both are onscreen you get that buddy-buddy chemistry that sits so comfortably within action films.

Barring the slow, plodding and quite frankly odd middle section (which feels as if it’s from another movie entirely), this is still a refreshingly different and entertaining take on invincible superheroes, which at its centre has some good characterisation and a little heart. In retrospect it’s not bad for a big budget studio picture.

Dominic O’Brien

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