Booze punching and… mythology?

Entertaining superhero film Hancock suffers from schizophrenia

Hancock (Will Smith) is a superhero with a public relations problem. Namely he’s an asshole. He’s a homeless wino who camps out in front of a home electronics store to watch the news for emergencies he causes seven-figure property damage wherever he goes and he verbally abuses everyone from the police to the bad guys to the common people he protects. After a chance encounter with PR do-gooder Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) Hancock attempts to improve his image through a number of carefully calculated (and often hilarious) appearances public gestures and image revamps.

Borrowing tropes and imagery from the asshole superheroes of modern comics The Authority (circa the Mark Millar-Frank Quitely run) and the grown-up badassery of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men the first part of Hancock stands up to the best superhero movies Hollywood has on offer franchise or no. Unfortunately a mid-story twist pushes the film toward the mythology-infused nerdfest of Neil Gaiman’s Eternals or Miracleman and while this more sober action-oriented affair is still handled with care and competence by director Peter Berg all of the film’s initial charm slowly bleeds away. The high-concept of the film’s second half never delivers and by the end it amounts to little more than a slightly-more-clever Heroes.

The most disappointing thing about Hancock is how well the incongruent plot works when either half is examined independently of the other. The problem is in the transition which happens too fast to be called anything but a bait-and-switch. In a longer episodic narrative form like television or comic books where the many sub-plots could be fully developed and Jason Bateman’s sudden relegation to the supporting cast wouldn’t feel as awkward Hancock could have been brilliant. Given director Berg and co-writer Vince Gilligan’s experience as TV folk this isn’t surprising though the high quality of their television projects ( Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad respectively) only brings into clearer focus what the story of Hancock has failed to be.

While Hancock falls short of the mass appeal necessary for mass box-office success anyone who’s ever flipped through the pages of a superhero comic book will find something to like and anyone who’s read even one of the comics referenced in the first two paragraphs of this review will find something to love. Declaring Hancock’s biggest flaw to be its lost potential is equal parts criticism and compliment given what it is — an engaging funny worthwhile action film.