Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2008

Less with more

'Hancock' wastes more than just a clever premise

Hancock
Columbia Pictures
Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan
Starring: Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron, Eddie Marsan and Jae Head
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 32 minutes
Opened July 2, 2008
(out of four)

You don't realize just how much of a waste Hancock is until it's all over. Then you can see all the fragments laid out, plain as day, and only then do you understand how much of a failure the movie has been.

What seemed like merely a waste of a good premise turns out to be, in fact, a waste of a great premise, a great character, a great chronicle of self-discovery and a great superhero dynamic that transcends any need for explosions, obligatory fight scenes or even an arch nemesis.

But until you see all the pieces, until you see the arc that our disgruntled superhero John Hancock (Will Smith) has to go through - and how, and why - everything seems like mediocre fragments of a shoddy superhero tale. By the end, our frame of reference has changed, and only then can we assess the entire story and realize that Hancock should have been a completely different movie altogether.

Until certain revelations come to light (I can't spoil them here), the movie just seems like a promising idea that hit a dead end. No big deal. We may be underwhelmed, but it's no tragedy.

But when the film shifts, and we see the remnants of a fascinating, mythical study of fate and the supernatural intertwining, that's when Hancock reveals itself as a massive waste.

By that point, everything that happens aside from his character's own journey just gets in the way.

The "bad guys" - who conveniently show up for an action finale but have virtually no presence in the rest of the movie - are as arbitrarily and poorly conceived as any I've ever seen. And there's a reason for that: The villains are insignificant. Or at least should be.

What's important here is Hancock as a character - who he is and why, how he got here, what is going to come of him. We don't need any obligatory villains - who, in this case, end up being one bank robber and a couple of by-the-numbers prison inmates - because Hancock has more pressing adversaries. There are other forces at work here, and they're more than enough. The criminals are essentially set dressing - a nuisance, really.

There's a reason why destiny chooses him to meet up with the good-hearted P.R. agent Ray (Jason Bateman) and his wife and child. There's a reason why he's come to find himself in Los Angeles without any memory of who he is and why he came to have the powers he does. At its heart, Hancock is about this character's own self-discovery. Too bad the filmmakers didn't realize it.

Instead, they use the character as a gimmick, throwing him into a superhero sitcom and hoping Will Smith's charisma can save the film from its own shallowness. It can't. The concept of the character is clever enough for a while - he's a superhero who doesn't really care.

Sure, he saves the day and all, but mostly he just wants to be left alone with his booze. Even when he does save the day, he doesn't care how it looks - if he causes millions of dollars' worth of damage to city property, so be it. He did his job; back to the bottle.

Despite stopping crime on a regular basis, he's not exactly popular with the locals. The police are trying to hit him with warrants. No one likes him. They argue over the logic of his superhero exploits. Isn't there a more cost-effective way you could have saved my life?

But that only gets the film so far. It introduces the character, but it's no basis for an entire film - unless . . . oh, but I won't spoil the second half of the movie. Still, it's only during that second half that the film's potential as a chronicle of Hancock's self-discovery becomes clear. Although, if they'd left it at that, maybe it wouldn't have been the action extravaganza everyone wants on the Fourth of July. (I mean, we wouldn't want anything thoughtful or meditative or, uh, interesting.)

As it is, what seemed like a good premise at face value ends up blending in with countless summer blockbusters you've already forgotten. Hancock isn't a terrible movie, just an unfortunate one. What was needed was simply a better feel for the big picture.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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