Will Smith is currently the most bankable star in Hollywood, and with good reason. The man never gives a less-than-entertaining performance. Everything he does, he seemingly does with such conviction that it becomes very easy to accept whatever role he is playing. Smith's charisma just emanates off the screen and it's difficult to think of one time where he, personally, has failed in his attempt.
No, the problem is never Will. The problem lies with something else, and that's precisely the issue that Hancock has. Hancock is a tonally inconsistent mishmash of a movie that presents a number of really great ideas but never actually follows through on any of them.
The story is simple enough. Superhero Hancock (Smith) is drunk and disorderly, but still is committed to stopping bad guys, collateral damage be damned. He doesn't seem to care about the financial toll he takes on his heroics, but is apparently still inspired to attempt heroics in general. When PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) is saved by Hancock, Ray makes it his duty to turn around the public's perception of Hancock and make him a true hero for the ages through a series of PR stunts.
A premise such as this is ripe with possibilities. Many people disagree with me, but I've always thought that one of the most fascinating superhero stories would be if Superman just got fed up with trying to help people and stopped giving a damn or attempted to take things into his own hands regarding the world power (in a more dictatorial role than in Superman IV, in which he asks, and everyone enthusiastically complies, in getting rid of all nuclear weapons). Instead, what Hancock delivers is a watered down version of a similar premise that attempts to cram a number of different ideas into a 92 minute run time while giving them very little time to breathe.
That's not to say there isn't some exquisite imagery in a large portion of the movie, because there certainly is. The way director Peter Berg films this movie is slightly reminiscent of the pseudo-documentary style he employs in "Friday Night Lights", which does ground this movie in a sense of realism. His biggest problems are two-fold. First, the tone switches in such a jarring way that it can sometimes pull you out of the movie. When you're expecting certain themes to be explored, only to have them be inexplicably dropped and another is picked up, the movie isn't helped by this. Of course, this could be rectified by a few extra transitional scenes that would exist to string the movie along a more solid focus. Secondly, the way he telegraphs a plot twist is much too obvious. The lingering shots in a scene that doesn't require lingering shots draws you out of the experience and makes you contemplate the nature of these shots instead of allowing the movie to unfold in a more naturalistic way. The twist certainly should have been alluded to in some way, but it was much too obvious from the outset.
John Powell also turns in a questionable score. I've heard his music before, and none of it was this inconsistant. This is certainly not a score I'm going to be seeking out anytime in the future.
If it feels like I'm being too negative on this movie, it shouldn't. I just find it frustrating when you see the skeleton of what could be an amazing superhero movie, only to be let down. What's so great about Hancock was the way that you could essentially create any story for him. There aren't any comic books or TV shows or old movies based upon this character; no, he was a completely unique character with his own mythology. You can go in with no preconceptions at all about who Hancock is or what he is. A true blank slate. Yet, with the exception of a few small monologues, we never really delve into that history. Why does Hancock choose to save people at all? He obviously has some sort of moral compass, a moral center that allows him to see right from wrong on a base level, but beyond the loneliness, what makes him who he is? What drives him at all? I don't necessarily feel that an origin story is necessary, but answers to these questions would have made the movie all the better for it. I can't really get into any more without getting into spoilers, so I suppose I'll stop with those questions here.
On a strictly entertainment level though, Hancock does deliver. Watching Will Smith tear through the streets of LA with a vague idea of what he's planning on doing does have an inherent entertainment value to it all. The banter between Smith and Jason Bateman is hilarious and they both have their own styles of humor that add immensely to the film. There were plenty of truly funny moments delivered by both characters, yet in very unique ways. Bateman once again plays the straight man and he succeeds just about every time. (Where's that Arrested Development movie, anyway?!) Charlize Theron is somewhat of a weaker point in this movie, but it has nothing to do with her performance, since not only is she playing attractive again (FINALLY it seems!) but you can tell she's actually putting effort into this role, depsite its "type" of movie.
Overall, this is a movie that gets by because of the star power of Will Smith. Giving this role to a weaker, less charasmatic actor could have doomed the movie from having any entertainment value at all. But fortunately this was not the case. The movie was absolutely worth seeing, it was just unfortunate that a structure of what could have been is laid out there, but never truly taken advantage of. I find it difficult to really qualify this movie, but I do think it falls somewhere along a continuum, one that doesn't really have a clear cut answer. So I give it a: