Click to viewWill Smith's drunk-and-disorderly superhero movie, Hancock, hits theaters today, a full three days early. You can't help but wonder if Warner Bros. is trying to get the movie out there before all the bad buzz, and horrendous reviews, take effect. The sad thing is, there are a bunch of ways that Hancock could have turned into a pretty decent film. Our review, with spoilers and a list of where Hancock went wrong, below.
Ways Hancock could have sucked considerably less:
#1: Do the cruddy-superhero thing right
The first half of Hancock is a watered down version of the comedy that those trailers promised you: Hancock is a superhero who's fallen into disgrace, thanks to hard-drinking roughneck ways. This is a premise with almost unlimited potential, and yet the movie still manages to flub it. The movie repeats the same joke a dozen times: someone calls Hancock an asshole, and Hancock gets pissed, so the guy calls Hancock an asshole a second time. Hancock scowls and says, "Call me an asshole one... more... time." And the other person says "asshole" one more time. Then Hancock uses his superpowers to fuck this person up in a hilarious way. The joke works once or twice, but then you start to wonder: who would ever knowingly fuck with Hancock? He's bulletproof and has super strength! People know all about him and his superpowers, but they still challenge him. Don't they know how it's going to end up? It's almost as if the scriptwriters think the fact that people don't respect Hancock means they don't fear him. It would have made more sense - and been funnier - for people to trash-talk Hancock and yet be terrified of getting in his way.
#2: Have some supervillains
So Hancock is the world's only superhero, in a world with no supervillains or other oversized threats. Hancock spends his time fighting small-time crooks, who pose no threat to him. Do you like watching a drunk guy swat flies? Then you'll love this.
Why are there no supervillains? It's a problem with superhero movies in general: they want to tell a simple, easily comprehended story in under two hours, so they keep the world-building simple. You can't really have Batroc the Leaper jump into Iron Man, because you'll have to explain who the hell this guy is and why he's jumping around with his silly French accent. Much simpler just to have Iron Man fight a guy who's using Iron Man's own stolen technology. Iron Man vs. Fake Iron Man. It's our world, just with super-armor. Or Hulk vs. Fake Hulk. Hancock takes this weird paradigm to its furthest extreme, and in the process it shows how flexible our modern mythology of superheroes isn't. Plus supervillains = automatically funny. The boasting, the giant gadgets, the Dr. Horribleness.
#3 Explain why exactly Hancock is a superhero anyway.
Hancock is a god among mortals. Shouldn't he be, I don't know, king of the world or something? Instead he's living in two smushed-together trailers and sleeping on a park bench. He's drunk all the time and people hate him because he causes tons of property damage in the course of fighting criminals. And it's never explained why Hancock feels the need to fight small-time hoods. There's a throwaway line late in the movie that says Hancock is a "protector" by nature, with an in-built need to help people. But it's very throwaway. And he could protect people lots of other ways besides foiling liquor-store robberies in L.A. He could be stopping the genocide in Darfur. As anyone who's read Michael Chabon's Kavalier And Clay knows, the crucial question is not, "How does Batman fight crime?" but, "Why does Batman dress up as a bat and fight crime?" In the case of Hancock, we probe his psyche a little bit, and get a vague sense that he's filled with self-loathing because nobody came to get him when he turned up, amnesiac, in a hospital 80 years ago. But it's all pretty thin sauce.
#4 More Jason Bateman being funny
This movie's MVP is really Jason Bateman from Arrested Development. Actually, Will Smith brings his usual charm to some horrendous material, but Bateman's the actor who really shines in Hancock - even though his character is actually super lame. Bateman's supposed to be the world's greatest PR guy, but all we ever see him do is fail to convince companies to sign on to his incredibly weak charity project, which involves putting an ugly heart logo on their products. The funniest parts of Hancock have to do with Bateman trying to rehabilitate Hancock's image and convince him to play nice. The long sequence of the white guy in a suit trying to "civilize" the scary black guy is a little creepy, but it does yield some actual humor. Bateman convinces Hancock that he should say "Good job" to police officers when he shows up at at a crime scene, because the cops are putting their lives on the line. So Hancock goes around woodenly saying "Good job" to everyone. (First, Hancock has to go to jail so he can show some humility, and make everybody miss him.)
It's just too bad that the funny Bateman moments are outweighed by the dull Bateman-pimping-his-charity moments, and the later Bateman-feeling-sad-about-his-marriage moments (we'll get to that in a sec.)
#5 Make this movie about something
One of the things that's frustrating about Hancock is it's full of metaphors - which aren't examined or explored at all. Like the idea that he's the world's only superpower, and everybody hates him. Do you think they maybe hate him because he's the only superpower? Also, the fact that he's filled with self-loathing because of his amnesia - what's that about? And the idea that superheroes are our "modern mythology," and a god who came to Earth would decide to be a superhero. There's got to be some potential there somewhere. Any one of those ideas, explored in an interesting way, would be way funnier than what we got.
#6 Put back the dirty stuff.
As we mentioned a couple of times, Hancock was gutted to squeak into a PG-13 rating, which is the money sweet spot in Hollywood. Along the way, everything really outrageous got sliced out of the movie. There's no more sex with underage (well, 17-year-old) girls. No more projectile semen ripping holes in the roof of Hancock's trailer. (Although you can still see the holes, in one scene.) I'm guessing a bunch of other crazy comic material got removed at some point, and what's left is sort of sad. Plus, Smith is determined to make Hancock likable even though he's supposed to be an asshole. As a result, Smith seems kind of bewildered. In fact, Hancock seems borderline autistic at times, especially in his interactions with Bateman. Smith is determined to make us love a superpowered drunk quasi-homeless guy with anger issues, so he settles on making him seem sort of childlike and befuddled. Why can't Hancock just be a cock?
#7 Totally rethink the movie's big twist
As you may have heard, Hancock is really two movies smushed together. The first half is a weak comedy, and you've already seen the funniest parts in the trailers. And then the second half is an unbearable melodrama. It happens really suddenly. There's a moment where Hancock suddenly turns into My Super Ex-Girlfriend for a moment, and then it switches gears and becomes a schlocky love story devoid of chemistry. And here's where things get spoilery.
So it turns out that Jason Bateman's wife, played by Charlize Theron, is actually an immortal superbeing like Hancock. And she and Hancock have been quasi-married before, but Hancock lost his memory of their past together. And whenever the two of them are together, they start to become mortal. Which is how the rest of their immortal race died off, by pairing up. Theron's character Mary is trying to hide her super-being status - so she flings Hancock through a wall. Good job, Mary!
#8 Can the love story.
At some point, you realize that we're supposed to care about the relationship between Hancock and Mary, even though there's no chemistry between them and they're talking about gods and immortality and destiny and blah blah blah. The later scenes between them are up there with Hayden and Natalie in the Star Wars prequels. It's fully Lake on Naboo-tiful. And the idea that they become mortal when they're in each other's presence is just kind of ludicrous and annoying, and makes for a horrendously schlocky climax.
#9 Decide what kind of movie you're making.
And here's really the crux of what went wrong with Hancock. Is it a crazy outrageous comedy about a shitty superhero? Then fucking go for it, and show us how crazy you can get. Is it an understated Jason Bateman comedy about a P.R. exec who tries to work with a superhero to improve his image? That actually could have been a great film, if the whole movie was about that. Is it an exploration of why Hancock is such a dick? Or is it a tragic love story of two immortal and nice-looking people who can never be together? (If so, then no thanks.) If Hancock had picked one movie to be, it might have managed to be pretty okay. Instead, it's a mash-up of five really bad movies.