Posted on November 25, 2008 at 8:00 am

The problem is, this is not a 4th of July movie. It is not a bad movie. It is not a good movie either. It is a flawed but interesting movie but its biggest problem is that on the 4th of July the kind of Will Smith movie people want to see is a brainless summer blockbuster with some cool explosions, some quippy dialogue, and the kind of bad guy you can cheerfully enjoy seeing fall off a building. This is not that movie, and people who expect that movie are doomed to disappointment. Go see Iron Man again. Or put those expectations aside, start from scratch, and go this this messy but intriguingly ambitious film. Inside the $150 million-budgeted would-be blockbuster there are two or three quirky little indie films trying to get out.

Will Smith’s Hancock may be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to soar like the eagle, his favorite animal, but he is no Superman. He dresses like a homeless guy, drinks like a wino, and talks like a sulky teenager. He will save lives, catch crooks, and hurl beached whales back into the ocean but he won’t be happy, nice, gracious, patriotic or careful about collateral damage. Everyone needs him but no one likes him. He doesn’t like anyone and he doesn’t like himself.

When idealistic PR guy (if that is not an oxymoron) Ray (Jason Bateman) gets stuck on the train tracks, Hancock rescues him and (literally) drops him off at home. Ray invites Hancock in for dinner and offers to give him some help with his image. He advises the petulant superhero to accept responsibility for his actions and remind everyone they cannot get along without him by spending some time in jail and getting some help with anger management. Pretty soon Hancock is shaving, wearing a streamlined leather superhero suit, and handing out compliments to the cops. And he looks pretty good. After all, he’s Will Smith.

But then the story takes a darker turn that makes it at the same time more provocative, more interesting, less safe, and much, much messier. Smith, Bateman, and Charlize Theron as Ray’s wife do their best to ride the bucking bronco of this movie’s seismic shifts set up by director Peter Berg and writers Vy Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan but by the end, which bears the unmistakable marks of a panicky recut to make it more upbeat. Too little, too late.

And so a promising idea about a superhero with an existential crisis several times greater than the “great power means great responsibility” growing-up metaphors of Spider-Man and other Marvel and DC denizens wobbles through wildly misjudged moments with way too much emphasis on the metaphoric and literal aspects of the terminating point of the lower intestine and then turns a sharp corner and has something of an existential crisis of its own, leaving the audience itself asking why we are here — meaning in the theater.

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Fantasy Superhero

20 Replies to “Hancock”

  1. Caught sneak preview of film Tuesday night. Was disappointed per your review. I agree. The film tried to go in several directions at once – not reaching closure or development on either one. I was left wondering more about what the relationship between Smith and Theron was and why the bad guys ‘were trying to get to him through her’. The bad guys talked about ‘getting their power back’ but that never went anywhere.

  2. I expect that next years “The Watchmen” will cover this kind of thing better than “Hancock”. For that matter, I think “the Incredibles” took on some of the same issues in a more congenial way. It is great to be edgy, but jsut as with including special effects, you have to keep the story in mind all the time.

  3. How can you give Hancock a pass? Seems to me you owe the parents who are reading your website for information a correct review.
    Like an idiot I went to see it July 4 because I like Will Smith — or did. I’ve told my son to keep his kids away. Cursing, extreme violence, sex (how did you miss the ejaculation scene?), drunkeness, rotten behavior, extreme property damage, no plot, not at all funny, weirdness. I’ve only walked out on two movies my entire life but Hancock was #3. Will Smith, Sony and you should be ashamed. I hope it bombs.

  4. Thanks very much for posting, Ann — this kind of feedback is exactly the kind of information that makes this site useful. Much of what you saw is included in my review, in which I did my best to warn audiences that this is not a typical Will Smith superhero movie and that it has extremely strong language and crude material for a PG-13. The movie is doing very well, with Smith’s second-best opening box office numbers, but I expect it will fall off a good bit next weekend as many who bought tickets were disappointed.

  5. Thought that Ann’s comments really articulated my impressions. The hubby and I kept looking at each other wondering if we should “fish or cut bait”. Made it to the end, but the ending did nothing to tie up the incoherent tangent paths the director, storyline, and actors were running. It was definitely weird, and not in a way that makes me want to see it twice to figure out what I still don’t get. I repeat, I still just don’t get it.
    Kudos to Nell for keeping us up on all the latest; as the credits rolled, i said to my husband, “let’s go home and see what moviemom has to say.
    Wish i would’ve checked in beforehand.

  6. movie mom i am sorry to say that that review was a bunch of *****.i saw hankock and i bruoght my 8 year old kid to see it and i see why they rated it four stars. FOUR!!. didnt put that in your review didnt You. You know that kids saying j.a isnt considered to make a movie vulgar and rude in the 21st centry. Your a fake move mom. you just wanna make life hard four kids by telling lies.

  7. Who was it who rated it four stars? No, I didn’t put that in my review because my review is about my opinion, not someone else’s. It would be dishonest and illegal for me to appropriate someone else’s review.
    I suspect, adid, that you are not a parent but a kid. Just guessing. And I’m also guessing you may not have seen the film, possibly because your parents read my review. But I’m glad to hear from you anytime and welcome your comments on my reviews and the movies you watch.

  8. I love how specific you are about what to expect. I went with a 13 year old to see Zolan even though your review was very much suggesting it was inaapropriate. It was a test. My child claimed you were too conservative and I said that I felt you were very informative. We went. She won the battle but lost the war. She saw a horribly inapporiate movie with her friends and Mom but now has to pull the MOVIE MOM review herself before she even asks abobut a movie as I told her I proved your ratings explanations were dead-on! She knows “Mature High School” means NO… NO exceptions.
    Thanks for your reviews. I focus on the ratings explanation and plot line more than whether it is an enjoyable movie.

  9. Leigh, you made my day! Many thanks, and I would be glad to have your daughter post her comments here as well.

  10. Hahaha all of this is making MY day:) My name is Stephanie and I am Leigh’s daughter. I was reading your review for Hancock, and happened to see my mom’s comment. And sadly, she was right:) About everything. Against what I told my boyfriend who invited me to see Zohan, (mom it’s not Zolan) the movie was terrible, which wasn’t a surprise. You really are VERY specific. Tonight I am going to see WALL.E and Hancock, (Thanks mom!) and I will be sure to post afterwards:] Thank you for your reviews:) Even if they do make getting to the movies a little harder. By the way, the comment above my mom’s is hilarious:)

  11. Thanks, Stephanie! A great post. Can’t wait to see what you think of Wall.E and Hancock.

  12. Just saw Hancock last night (didn’t have time to get around to it the last couple of weeks), and although I don’t disagree with your review, I am more than surprised that you gave Hancock a B- and yet you gave Wanted a B.
    Another user basically asked you the same question (though not in comparison to Hancock) and you defended your position by saying that you grade movies based on how well they accomplish what they set out to be. I disagree. I think that a terrible movie should receive a terrible grade, even if that was the intention (of course it wasn’t).
    I saw Wanted last week and thought it was inane, mindless, and an insult to a person’s intelligence, even when you are trying to suspend your disbelief as much as possible on the count of it being a Hollywood action movie. Only Transporter 2 could trump Wanted in terms of being a waste of time and money.
    Wow, maybe I should have posted this comment under Wanted, huh? Oops. Lol. Oh, and thanks for your reviews.

  13. Thanks for a great comment, Rob! I have no problem giving a terrible movie a bad rating even if there is nothing “inappropriate” for its intended audience. We just disagree about “Wanted.” As I said in my review, I thought it was very stylish and a good example of its genre of twisted comic-book action, though I didn’t like the last half hour. “Transporter 2” was a disappointment after the first “Transporter,” but I’ve seen a lot worse! “Ecks vs. Sever” is just one of many bad examples.
    “Hancock” tried to be several things at once, not always a bad thing, but I thought that in this case it was jumbled and ineffective. It aspired to be more than “Wanted” did and fell shorter.
    At least, that’s the way I saw it and what I tried to convey in my reviews. But the exchange of comments like this one is especially helpful in expanding on the approach and criteria — and a lot of fun! Thanks, and keep letting me know what you think of the movies you see and the reviews I write!

  14. Hi! 😀
    This Really doesnt have anything to do with the movie but i have a question,
    Why did you stop writing reviews on yahoo? i was just wondering because its alot easier for me to go there.
    Thanks! 😀

  15. Thanks for tracking me down, Derik! I switched because Beliefnet gives me a chance to do so much more — to write about DVDs, do interviews and features and commentary, and reach a broader audience as well. And my readers can write comments like yours and I can respond. Now that you’ve found me, I hope you will bookmark the site and come back often.

  16. After seeing several summer movies — including Dark Knight, Iron Man, Hulk, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Kit Kittredge, Prince Caspian, Tell No One — I have to say that I enjoyed Hancock more than any other.
    I laughed, I cried. I cared about the characters. The movie had heart. The leads had chemistry.
    All of which is more than I can say for the others, during which I felt mostly bombarded by noise and constant action, and manipulated into feeling something for cardboard characters.
    A side note: I think this is the first time I’ve seen Charlize Theron play opposite a male actor capable of being her equal. Will Smith matches her in stature, strength, intensity, and maturity. I’d like to see them play opposite one another again.

  17. Thanks for a wonderful comment, AnaLeigh63. I have a strong feeling that we may see a more coherent “director’s cut” of this film with more emphasis on the relationship between the Theron and Smith characters. They had wonderful chemistry and I, too, would love to see them in another film.

  18. This also doesnt have anything to do with the movie but I was just wondering…have u ever graded a movie and then wished you could have changed the grade you gave it?

  19. Hi, Nick! I sure have! One of the great things about being online is that I can add or change things whenever I want to. When a movie comes out on DVD I read the review again and make changes if the extra time I’ve had to think about the movie gives me some new or different ideas. Thanks for the comment!

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