Amidst all of the comic book-inspired summer blockbusters comes a breath of fresh air in Hancock, a movie that somehow manages to tread the fine ground between superhero megaproduction and heartfelt character study. That it is an original story not based on an existing comics franchise probably helps a bit, as does the fact that its lead character–ostensibly, the superhero–is entirely unliked for the entire first act and most of the second. Will Smith is good, as always, almost to a fault: even when Hancock is being a complete asshole, it’s hard not to like him. Of course this is necessary to the film’s success; if the audience wasn’t able to instantly get behind Smith’s character from the get-go, his transformation throughout the film would be ineffectual.
Along with the near-guarantee of Will Smith as its primary factor for success, Hancock reveals a secret ingredient that we can only hope other movies will take notice of and make more use of in the future: Jason Bateman. His performance is great, again, and provides the perfect balance needed to temper Smith’s likable asshole while counterpointing him in the comic relief department as well. Bateman’s Ray Embrey is the PR man who takes it upon himself to rework Hancock’s public image, and of course the two become friends along the way.
There is a third aspect of the character relations triangle involved in this movie that I felt the marketing campaign (at least, the previews and marketing that I was exposed to) did an excellent job of avoiding, to the film’s benefit. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, but needless to say Charlize Theron is present in this movie as more than just arm candy for Bateman’s character. The twist that comes feels natural enough, in the sense that I don’t think it’s the kind of shift in story that will put off most audiences (although it will probably invite some Highlander jokes and comparisons).
The execution of this film’s production is top-notch. There is a climactic battle that is done primarily with computer graphics, and it can serve as an example of “the right way to do it” to other films that overuse such technology to their detriment (I’m looking at you, Louis Leterrier). Here the fight scene is brief and always character-focused. If anything, it almost feels like director Peter Berg wants to get the big action sequence over with so that he can get on with the character development he’d been working on prior to the fight breaking out. I don’t want to belabor the point any more than I already have, but suffice it to say that I feel this is an infinitely better way to make a movie, and it is effective here.
In further contrast to most other superhero movies, Hancock seems to be a complete, self-contained story. As its primary draw is in the telling of the story of how an indifferent alcoholic with super powers becomes a responsible and reliable superhero, I’d like to think that there isn’t much left to be told once said transformation has been fully explored, but a successful holiday weekend at the box office might dictate otherwise. Regardless, this is a movie that hits on all of the big superhero points while bringing something unique to the table, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do admirably and enjoyably.