Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hancock (2008, Peter Berg)

Certainly not the best blockbuster to come down the pipe this summer, but this is almost undoubtedly the strangest. Starts off with a bang, although not in the way you might expect, as Will Smith's reluctant superhero stops a violent crime in progress but leaves a whole mess of destruction and ill will in his wake. Victor is right on in spotlighting the way the film's first hour is primarily a prickly pro-interventionism allegory and satire of guilty-liberal bugaboos- it's so apparent you couldn't even call it subtextual- and it's bracing to see a big-budget summer movie that's not only unabashedly political but successfully works it into the narrative rather than simply paying it lip service. Hancock (that name, I mean duh) is called upon to clean up crime only to be vilified by the people when he doesn't make it pretty or heroic-looking, only to be called back into action when he's put out of commission for his infractions. I'm not remotely the biggest supporter of American militarism out there, yet I'd be lying if I didn't find this part of the movie surprisingly engaging. However, about an hour into the story (following the logical conclusion), Berg and distributor Columbia Pictures suddenly remember that they're trying to make a big summer tentpole superhero adventure, and everything starts to go to hell. After an intriguing, unexpected reveal, we're subjected to a subpar take on the usual formula- the origin story, the moments of doubt, the vulnerability, and finally the hero rising to the occasion. Unfortunately, Hancock doesn't work nearly as well as a loud, self-important superhero spectacle as it does as the satire its early scenes would lead one to believe it is (not sure which is worse, the lame-ass ending, the lame-ass villain, or the awful performance by Charlize Theron). What's more, Berg has no idea how to handle the twists the script throws at him and the tonal shifts that result from them. The most egregious example of this (SPOILER) is the fallout from the unveiling of Theron's character as one of Hancock's fellow superheroes. To begin with, it's not nearly as big a twist as the film makes it out to be, since Berg relies far too heavily on seemingly unmotivated closeups of her staring skeptically at the unkempt superhero that hubby Jason Bateman has brought into their lives. And once it's happened, the movie kind of goes to hell. This is most apparent in a scene where Smith and Theron zip around downtown L.A., fighting like a couple of petulant children. Ideally, this scene is funny because the two of them are obviously on another plane of existence and their issues are out of scope with the mortals who surround them. So when they fight, obviously they'll leave destruction in their wake. However, Berg never gets the scope of the scene right, thus killing the comedy, and the scene becomes nothing more than a series of loud, punishing effects. (END SPOILER) The movie doesn't get much better from there, finishing in a warm-fuzzy ending that it hasn't earned and which doesn't begin to satisfactory wrap up the story. It's a shame- what started as perhaps the summer's best surprise quickly turned to disbelief and, finally, disappointment, and that's not the kind of ride you want to get from a blockbuster. Rating: 6 out of 10, although it's more like a split decision between 8 and 4.


James said...

I've seen a few people read this as a sort of neo-con allegory, and I looked for it, but didn't detect it. Certainly it could be interpreted that way, but since the script originated back in 1996, I'm thinking the parallels just lined up well.

Steve C. said...

But then, that's assuming there's any points of contact between that screenplay and what ended up on screen. As I understand it, there aren't many.

James said...

Ah-ha, you've got me there, Steve. But I still sort of wonder whether or not Peter Berg would be a neo-con!