Saturday, July 05, 2008


If Iron Man's Tony Stark (a.k.a. Tony Snark) is the guilt-ridden superhero, then Hancock's John Hancock is the apathetic one. Roll awake at midday like a slacker; brush off personal hygiene and manners like they're archaic bourgeois tenets; drink two bottles worth because life ain't worth sh*t: these are the rules that Hancock lives by. Both superheroes fit well into Generation Whatever's forever unimpressed world view. Throw in James McAvoy's Wesley from the comic book inspired Wanted, and 2008 is the year of the smarmy knight in shining armor.

Will Smith plays John Hancock, a reluctant superman that doesn’t cling to props like capes, helmets, or masks to prove his outstanding abilities. He fights crime in Los Angeles, so his well-intentioned yet poorly executed deeds land him on TMZ-type gossip shows and gotcha clips on YouTube. If you stare at him too long he'll "break his foot off in your ass", and one of his favorite super powers is shoving heads into rectums. (A tactic he threatens once, and makes good on another time shifting Hancock into full on Wayans brother territory, but dumber.) Hancock also suffers from some sort of amnesia, unable to remember his life prior to 1928. Who was he? Where did he come from? Is he the only of his kind? But instead of brooding, he hits the liquor.

By choosing to shoot in a shaky hand-held style, director Peter Berg aims for semi-realism in Hancock. This was fine in The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights because the settings were small-town Texas, and tension-heavy Riyadh. But in Hancock, this technique is off-putting and showy for no reason. It doesn't irritate the eyes as much as a Paul Greengrass massacre, but it may make you feel bad for being so hard on the likes of Tony Scott and Antoine Fuqua.

Overall, Berg's stylistic decisions keep Hancock in line with the current trend of superhero films that strive to make the audience feel like the on-screen superguy is just like one of us. This year, only Edward Norton’s and Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk has flirted with transferring the cartoonish, other-wordly comic book fantasia to something else spectacular on screen.

But what's most disappointing about Hancock is Peter Berg and writers Vince Gillian and Vincent Ngo's sidelining of any subplot that acknowledges Hancock's blackness. In fact, we are only teased with it by discovering that Hancock's amnesia came from a severe beating he received while on a date with a white woman in 1928. The implied lynching is glossed over, missing an opportunity to give Hancock a little human lining among the previous 80 minutes of shoddiness. Elsewhere, the filmmakers simply pander to the audience's expectations of what a black superhero would be like, playing Ludacris's "Move Bitch" and the theme song to Sanford and Son as the soundtrack to Hancock's rescue missions. The only time Hancock's heroism gets the serious superhero treatment is after he's been reformed from his previous jivin' ways.

1 comment:

WaywardJam said...

Glad you mentioned the music. I am a fan of Ludacris and Ice-T but found it unsettling they used two heavily-edited versions of these very profane songs. I kept wondering what kind of message were they sending? The Sanford & Son song was just out of place and lame.

There was good movie potential in Hancock, Berg's shaky cam and the erratic story killed any chance of success.