Hancock casts Will Smith against type as a sullen, drunken superhero who hates everybody. He would rather chug whiskey than deal with criminals, yet something drives him to try to help out civilization anyway. His being drunk means things get accomplished in a disorderly manner, with bad-guy vehicles getting impaled on skyscrapers and beached whales getting tossed into sailboats.
The movie strives to be so much more than your average superhero flick, and that's likely to put some people off. There are scenes in this movie that are funnier than anything I've seen this year--yet Smith and director Peter Berg have somehow made a "real" movie about a man with superhero powers. Like M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, this film wants to go a little deeper than the usual glossy approach to superheroes.
Hancock is a vagabond who spends much of his time on city benches, sleeping off colossal drinking binges. When we first see him, he's being awakened by a child who beckons him to go out and perform his civic duty. After a cranky exchange with the kid, the child walks away, calling Hancock a very bad name.
Hancock's image is in the crapper due to all of the damage he causes while fighting crime. There are warrants out for his arrest, and TV personalities like Nancy Grace are calling him a menace. He gets some help in the form of Ray Embrey (the ever-reliable Jason Bateman), a public-relations consultant. Ray's life is saved by Hancock in an act that, characteristically, causes millions of dollars in damage. Out of gratitude, Ray wants to make the world love Hancock--and Hancock, in his own drunken and cranky way, does indeed want the world to accept him.
Part of Ray's plan to improve Hancock's public profile is to have him serve a prison sentence, confident that the inevitable rise in crime while he's incarcerated will make the public and authorities miss him rather than loathe him. There is a sight gag during the prison sequence that had me on the floor, and I applaud the filmmakers (and ratings board) for allowing it into a PG-13 film.
Hancock meets Ray's family, which consists of his suspicious wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and his son, Aaron (Jae Head), who insists upon being a Hancock fan, mainly because he saved his dad. The sequences during which Aaron attempts to befriend Hancock are genuinely sweet.
The first chunk of the film is played mostly for laughs, and those laughs are bountiful. The sight of a drunken Hancock terrorizing thugs by whisking their vehicle into the sky and purposefully dropping it is great, sinister fun. Hancock also--in a very politically incorrect moment--launches a child bully into the air, giving the bully some time to think about his actions before being caught on the way down. Berg and Smith employ a dark, and even sick, sense of humor that will leave you laughing and shocked at the same time.
Berg utilizes some of the shaky-cam and soundtrack tricks so prevalent in his Friday Night Lights. I half expected a football to bounce off of Hancock's head, followed by a pep talk from Billy Bob Thornton. The movie goes for more drama than laughs in its finale, and while I preferred the funny stuff, the dramatic aspects are done well enough to not hurt the movie.
On my way out of the screening, I heard one critic blasting the movie for "not knowing what it is." While the film tries to be many things at once (comedy, drama, genre pic, etc.), it succeeds. I had a lot of fun, and this movie gave me the sense that I was seeing something different and adventurous.
The audience will be split on this one--and I'm over on the happy side.