The theaters have been so saturated of late with franchises or adaptations, that to get an original idea is refreshing, even if it is in the guise of a superhero movie, which is the type of film which seems to be saturating the theaters just as much.
Supposedly, the script, written by X-files writer Vince Gilligan, was on the shelf for over a decade until the recent superhero trend put it into production, and Akiva Goldsmith and Michael Mann are a few of the many producers on the film, including Smith himself.
Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) directs…or does his best to. It’s really not his fault because he’s asked to do a Herculean feat. To make a rough film about identity and redemption, that’s also something of a comment on the comic book genre itself, that also fits into the narrow focus grouped confines of a summer blockbuster (and ends up following Joseph Campbell by the book). And naturally the weakness of the film is its tone. Then again maybe form is so tied to content here that the film is as conflicted and contradictory as Hancock himself?
Part of the problem is the musical score. It seems that the original score, which is fine, was supplemented by the addiction of a soundtrack in post-production…what do I mean? Well, exhibit A, the most unfortunate and inexplicable use of the Sanford and Son theme ever.
The tone of the script seems to be more rough and dark, and at times that seeps into the film proper. Oddly enough, the comedy requisite of a Summer Blockbuster, and the blowupmanship as well, as strained it feels, works because of the actors involved. Add this to the list of amazing performances by Smith in popcorn flicks. This isn’t the Oscar worthy performance of I am Legend, which should have gotten a special Oscar for amazing performance against lousy CGI, but it’s almost as good, and no one else could have played Hancock and had it work as well as Smith. He’s just enough of an SOB, yet sympathetic, and just aloof as someone as alien as a superhero should be. Charlize Theron probably had just as hard a time with her part, the script hands her a twist that should be fatal for the film, but feels not so awful because of her effortless handling of it. She’s as gorgeous as ever in this part, but above all she does a remarkable job of acting with her eyes. It’s also interesting to compare this with her Arrested Development guest spot just to see how much of range she has. You know the one where she was Jason Bateman’s Brit dream girl? Oddly enough they’re paired together again here, who saw that coming?, and above all Bateman makes this movie work. Will Smith goes for the more complex and darker elements of his character, while the film elements all seem to want to go to comedic popcorn flick, and Bateman works something as the Jimmy Carter doing the peace talks between the two. His comedic timing is sharp as ever. But he proves here he’s more than just dry, self-effacing, humor…he’s successfully proved he doesn’t suffer from John Krasinski syndrome. Sure he has that, but he also adds a level of pathos that reconciles the humor, and allows the audience to feel comfortable following him into the last act where the more challenging aspects of the script get highlighted.
In the end, the film is a mess, but an enjoyable and above all emotionally satisfying mess. I really am hoping for a Director’s cut that maybe can smooth out the tone a bit more. One that is as crass and challenging as the film suggests at times (the language, which is fitting for the film, would have gotten this an ‘R’ just a few years ago).
That said, this is still the most challenging, engaging, and interesting superhero film since Batman Begins. While all the other Comic Book adaptations are given added updates, wrinkles, or made darker to be more interesting contemporary films, this is an original work which is adapted to the Comic Book film, and I think that makes it more genuine and interesting. It’s less fan-boy and more , well… human.