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  • Writer's pictureThe Screen Room

Hancock (2008)

You may have seen recently that I shared the trailer for Sylvester Stallone’s new movie, Samaritan in which he plays a retired superhero.

Well, the whole idea got me thinking of another non-comic-book-based superhero movie that I really like, and one that for various reasons tends to get mixed reviews.

I felt an urge to watch it again yesterday afternoon.

Hancock (2008)

This is actually the first Will Smith film I’ve watched since the infamous Oscars slap incident.

If you haven’t seen it, it stars (as previously mentioned) Will Smith (Bad Boys), Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Charlize Theron (Monster) and Eddie Marsan (The World’s End) among others.

It’s directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon).

This is what it’s about according to the internet:

“A scruffy, alcoholic superhero named Hancock (Smith) protects the citizens of Los Angeles but leaves horrendous collateral damage in the wake of every well-intentioned feat, making him the most hated man in L.A. That's OK with Hancock; he doesn't care what people think and is just as likely to be found dozing on a park bench as saving a damsel in distress. However, when he saves the life of PR expert Ray Embrey (Bateman) from an oncoming train, the executive is thankful and believes he can restore Hancock's image as a true superhero.”

I honestly thought this film would get a sequel. I know critics didn’t love it but it performed well at the box office, making $629 million against it’s $150 million budget. I would’ve thought that was enough to warrant a follow up or even two. Instead it remains one of those underrated movies (in my opinion) and one that seems like a wasted opportunity to tell more of the story - especially when you consider that it was released just two months before Iron Man which kicked off the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Will Smith had an amazing run of movies between 1995 and 2012. Everything he touched seemed to be a commercial (and sometimes) critical success. This film not only showcases some of his more dramatic acting chops, but is also a different kind of movie compared to anything he’d done up to that point.

So what don’t people like about it?

Well the biggest criticism the movie gets is regarding its second half.

If you’ve seen it you’ll know that the first half of the film is a mix of comedy with some drama peppered in. It’s actually a tragic story when you think about it - a lonely man with superpowers and no memory of how he got them or where he came from, reluctantly helps strangers yet is hated by everyone - so the drama is more than necessary.

The second half of the film introduces a big plot twist that shifts the tone dramatically and sees pretty much all of the comedy removed and the plot becoming very dark in comparison to the first half.

This huge contrast is usually the biggest issue people have with the film. In fact, one review in The Washington Post said the movie “had begun with promise, but that the change in tone partway through was so abrupt that the film did not recover.”

I’ve seen this movie several times now and sure, I get what they’re saying, but personally it doesn’t ruin the film for me. Yes, it’s a dramatic change in tone and pace, and yes it probably could’ve been handled better, but I still find it an extremely enjoyable watch.

As it happens the original script was actually written in 1996 by a guy called Vy Vincent Ngo and had the title, “Tonight, He Comes”. It was a much darker story though with the main character, Hancock being an even bigger asshole than he is in the movie we’re now all familiar with.

Various directors including Tony Scott and Michael Mann were allegedly attached to the project at different points, before Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad) eventually re-wrote the script and Peter Berg came on as director and made it into what finally became Hancock.

Had the original script been made into a movie it would’ve been a very different film. In fact, Hancock itself had to undergo various changes to ditch its R-rating, and get the PG13 rating it eventually received.

And maybe therein lies part of the problem.

Were too many test screenings, as well as meddling by the studio to blame for turning what was potentially a decent and cohesive script into something that was too desperate to please audiences and make money? Who knows! That’s certainly what I think happened to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (but that’s in another post).

Love it or hate it you can’t deny this movie has an interesting premise and some entertaining moments.

For me, Jason Bateman steals the show as the loveable and infectiously optimistic Ray. I’m a big fan of his anyway, and the scene where he’s showing Hancock various YouTube videos of his questionable, “heroic” antics is one of my favourite parts of the movie.

In some ways it is a shame that the film didn’t continue in the same vein as it started. Maybe it would’ve been better received if it had stuck with the comedy element that makes the first half so entertaining. I guess it’s hard to tell a story with multiple different themes and balance them all successfully. Regardless, it’s still worth a watch in my opinion.

In a time when superhero movies dominate (and dare I say saturate) the box office, this one offers an alternative to the squeaky-clean, all American heroes we’re used to seeing (unless of course you’re a fan of The Boys).

It has an interesting and original (if not slightly under-explored) story, good characters, great performances, and a powerful score by John Powell.

It’s funny, yet at the same time has a sad and deeply emotional core (which, I guess is unfortunately what makes the whole thing so complicated).

If you haven’t seen this film and fancy something slightly different to your usual superhero movie, I recommend you check it out.

Seen it? Let me know whether you like it or hate it.

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