Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (among others), hit upon a fresh, original take on comic book super-heroes when they first started building what would become the Marvel Universe in the early 1960s. The characters that they created were humans first, heroes second. As such, they all had problems of one sort or another. Resentment, anger, jealousy, anxiety, relationship worries, familial responsibilities, damaged hearts, physical handicaps, you name it, the early Marvel super-hero characters had to deal with all of these issues and other types of neuroses. They were all deeply flawed people which served to brilliantly underscore their spectacular achievements as heroes with a heavy dose of irony. As Spider-Man, Peter Parker could save the day against Dr. Octopus. As "puny" Parker, he couldn't catch a break with girls.
HANCOCK (2008) leans heavily on the flawed super-hero trope pioneered by Stan and Jack and other creators. The film opens cold, with Hancock (Will Smith) already established as a Los Angeles based super-hero. He's super strong, invulnerable and can fly but he eschews a costume or alter-ego of any sort. He's simply "Hancock". He's also an asshole.
Hancock has a serious drinking problem. He's angry and isolated from the general public even though he regularly saves the day. The trouble is he does a tremendous amount of property damage in the process which has resulted in several warrants for his arrest being issued. Alone, the only one of his kind in existence, the troubled super-hero takes refuge in the bottle and hides out in, not a Batcave or Fortress of Solitude, but two mobile homes butted together on a hill top overlooking the Los Angeles basin. He's Luke Cage without a costume and a very bad attitude. His drinking problem also echoes the classic "Demon In A Bottle" sequence in which Tony (Iron Man) Stark, wrestled with booze.
Hancock saves public relations pitchman Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from dying in a train wreck. Ray sees an opportunity with Hancock, a chance to both redeem the fallen hero and make a name for himself as a PR wizard. Ray convinces Hancock to willingly go to jail. He reasons that the longer Hancock stays behind bars, the more the public will miss him and realize that they've taken him for granted. When something truly bad happens again (and the crime rate does escalate in his absence), Hancock will emerge from prison to save the day. Oh, and he'll be sporting a genuine super-hero costume (a blue spandex number with yellow pinstripes that looks like it was borrowed from an X-MEN film).
Sure enough, a major bank robbery goes down, with hostages and a running gun battle with LAPD. Hancock soars into action (accompanied by a score which sounds remarkably like John Williams' classic SUPERMAN fanfare). He saves the day and all is well.
Except it isn't. Because there's something funny going on between Hancock and Ray's wife,
Mary (the take-your-breath-away gorgeous Charlize Theron). She has displayed hostility towards Hancock from the very beginning of the film, a hostility which is finally explained in a not-quite-satisfying third act.
HANCOCK has moments of thrilling super-hero action, all of them brought to vivid life by outstanding special effects. There are also some extremely funny moments in the film, the standout being a scene that takes place during Hancock's first day in prison. I laughed so hard at this one I think I scared my dog. All three leads are solid but I think the screenplay by Vince Gilligan and Vincent Ngo could have used one more rewrite, especially in that third act.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. It was fresh, different and unique. Not being based on any existing comic book property, the creators had full reign to take the characters and the story in any direction they desired. All of that worked for me and I would be tempted to give this one three out of four stars except for one thing.
The camera moves in every shot.
Whether it's to the right, the left, up, down, in or out, the camera is constantly drifting no matter what it's filming. Action sequence or just two people talking, the camera moves and moves and moves and moves. It's an incredibly distracting affectation, one that literally pulls me right out of the fantasy on screen and into the realm of oh-this-is-just-a-movie. Why is the camera moving? Is it to create tension? Induce motion sickness in viewers? Did both director Peter Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler think this would improve the film in some way? Did they not trust the material? This constant movement is as annoying as those oh-so-obnoxious lens flares in every film J.J. Abrams makes. In fact, rumor has it that the upcoming STAR WARS film is going to undergo a name change before release next month to STAR WARS: THE LENS FLARES AWAKEN.
Seriously. Peter Berg. Tobias A. Schiessler. Stop it. Enough with the moving camera already. Don't do it again. Please. Because of this hysterical "look at me, I'm directing!" visual tourette, I have to knock a full star off of HANCOCK's rating. With a locked down camera, it's a three star film. With a helplessly adrift camera, it's a two star movie.
And that's being generous.