Make Up Your Mind is a series where I review movies whose tomato meters are between 40% and 60%. It’s an attempt to find a consensus on how good the movie actually is, because a critical split of 50/50 isn’t helpful. This time, it’s Hancock (2008), which currently sports a 41%, based on over two-hundred reviews.
Hancock is a superhero comedy/drama, starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, and Jason Bateman. It’s a newer, more “original” attempt at capturing the isolation and loneliness vigilante superheroes are portrayed as experiencing. And when it comes to that, it actually performs quite well. Sadly, when it loses its focus in favor of a twist ending, its main strength is lost, and so is its message; transforming it into a sub-par, mid-2000’s hero film. When taking everything into account, it’s a good movie, that misses its own purpose, with ridiculous attempts at comedy, and subverting expectations.
The film starts off with Hancock waking up on a park bench, to a child telling him about a current car chase going on. We soon find out that he is not just a homeless drunk, but one who saves the city as well, as he arrests the van of marauders. This initial scene is actually quite like the car fight scene found at the beginning of Deadpool (2016), only without the slapstick comedy. But it still provides the same information. We learn who he is, what his personality is, and what his powers are, in the context of a van-based fight-and-negotiation scene. After his valiant effort, every news cast begins to point fingers at him, for causing millions of dollars in damage to the city. It becomes clear that he’s not liked by the general public, due to his sloppy performance, and “asshole” nature.
After this, we’re introduced to the second main character, Ray, played by Jason Bateman. Working as a PR director, he’s continuously pitching the idea of giving away medicine and other necessary supplies to the public for free, in order to place a stamp on their company and in turn, give them good PR. But as with most capitalist businesses, they’re not for free services, causing him to strike out on numerous occasions. Hancock then meets Ray, when saving him from a moving train, as his car gets stuck on the tracks. Being the thankful person who almost lost his life, Ray first brings Hancock to his home for dinner, and then offers him the chance to have a better public image – the main topic of the movie.
After several discussions between the two, Hancock finally agrees to willingly incarcerate himself, and work on his anger and drinking issues. This, in theory, will allow him to become sympathetic, and when he’s in jail, crime will skyrocket so the city knows they need him. Surprisingly, it works, and Hancock becomes almost a celebrity, and one who’s well-liked. This section isn’t as short or simple as I’ve described it. Instead, it probably takes up a solid thirty minutes, and to me, is by far the best part of the film. I thought the emotion and strength of these sections would be ruined by a normally-comedic duo of Jason Bateman and Will Smith, but they both perform incredibly well. Will Smith, particularly, captured my heart towards the beginning of this movie. Throughout his pseudo-intervention, it’s clear that he’s detached from the world around him, but at the same time, makes an attempt to understand and reconcile these issues.
Now that everything is great, Hancock, and the Ray family go out to a nice dinner, where they learn the origin of Hancock’s powers, and frustration. Eighty years ago, he awoke in a hospital bed in Miami, suddenly gaining all of these new abilities. But when he gained consciousness, no one was there to claim him. He didn’t even know his own name. He only took the name John Hancock, as his nurse asked him for his “John Hancock.” This is an obvious point of reflection and struggle for Hancock, who doesn’t really know what companionship is.
Being only an hour into the movie, I obviously knew something had to change, but wow, I was not expecting what came next. After taking a drunk Ray back home, Hancock comes down to the living room, and attempts to kiss Ray’s wife. As he does this, she throws him out of the house, physically, along with the refrigerator. We find out that she too, has powers, and later, that they’re both “Gods,” who have been around for thousands of years. Oh, also, they’re married. I didn’t like this twist for three main reasons. First, while they had hinted at the attraction between Hancock and Mary, Hancock had clearly been a great friend to Ray, and had finally gained sympathy, from not only the public, but I think the audience of the film. So this simple action of betraying Ray, whether it’s justified or not, is questionable, and loses his newly-found sympathy. Second, the existence as an “immortal being,” whether he has emotions or not, subtracts a bit from his humanity, which is what made this film so good. There is a large difference between “man with superpowers,” and “God with superpowers.” Finally, this one scene, takes the somber, grand journey of our protagonist, and throws it all away, to explore the three-thousand-year-old relationship of two Gods, that wasn’t established until over an hour in.
After this one moment, a lot happens, but nothing very noteworthy. We find that when Mary and Hancock are together, they both lose their immortality, so at two separate moments, our immortal beings become endangered, and injured, in hospital beds. Because of this, Hancock, at the end of the film, flies away to the moon, so Mary can recover. And at the very end, we find out he’s actually carved the logo of Ray’s company into the moon, which is both cute and ridiculous.
As a whole, the performances in this film are decent to good. Will Smith and Jason Bateman specifically carry this film with their chemistry, and although I hate the character of Mary, Charlize Theron does the best with what she’s given. Not many of the other characters have any focus on them, which is probably a good thing, as most of them are forgettable. The main “bad guy” of the film isn’t even a key piece to the movie itself, so much so that I haven’t really mentioned him. The dialogue is also slightly better than your average superhero movie of the time, with pretty understated moments; my favorite of which being when Mary is talking to Hancock towards the middle of the film, saying “Ray is a good man.” This, effectively implying that Hancock should do his best to not mess things up for his family, which maybe she sees coming.
The cinematography isn’t awful, but is incredibly mid-late 2000’s. Any of the CGI with Will Smith flying is kind of laughable, and most of the action sequences are filmed with super shaky cameras, to simulate some sort of bystander; very similar to movies around the same time like Cloverfield (2008). The visuals themselves are related to later films like District 9 (2009), and even Chronicle (2012), with a realistic-yet-somehow-artificial feel to them. Even though it lacks impressiveness, it’s not something I was actively faulting the movie for, because it wasn’t really in their control, and I didn’t think it distracted from the best parts of the film – until the emotional shift took place, but that wasn’t cinematography-based.
Honestly, Hancock was a much better film than what I was expecting. Before this point, every film I’d reviewed had been almost irredeemable, with very few positives. I actually think Hancock, while not a “good” film, has a lot of good qualities, that just lacked a bit of execution. If it weren’t for the last thirty minutes of the movie, I would’ve no doubt rated this thing as good. For what it is, the first hour of the film is well-executed and legitimately interesting. While over-the-top at times, Will Smith does a good job at being a believable, sympathetic person, throwing in just a splash of comedy here-and-there. All of this makes Hancock a unique attempt at a story of an anti-hero, and his progress to becoming an actual hero, that is simply let down by the large plot diversion toward the end.