Movie Review for Hancock (2008)

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Review #656 of 365
Movie Review of Hancock (2008) [PG-13] 92 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.75
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 3 July 2008
Time: 4:30 pm
DVD Release Date: 25 November 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from John Powell - Hancock - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Peter Berg (The Kingdom)
Written by: Vincent Ngo (Beat the Devil) • Vince Gilligan ("The X-Files")

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Will Smith (I Am Legend) • Charlize Theron (In the Valley of Elah) • Jason Bateman (Juno) • Jae Head ("Friday Night Lights")

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Click to see photos or video coverage from the Premiere of Hancock
Click to read the spoiler points for Hancock
Pow…Zowie…Kerplunk…Smash…Ahhhhhhhheeeeeeahhhhh…splat…If you thought the Batman Returns sequel, The Dark Knight, was the only superhero movie with any real gusto this summer, and now that summer is half over you still think Iron Man is the best…well, you might be right because Robert Downey Jr.'s performance will be hard to top for years to come…however, now that Will Smith has started to get back in the swing of things as the action hero her really is with his 'inspired sort of' return in I Am Legend which was a bit over the top to his virtual resurrection as Hancock on the spot on the annual calendar that once might have been relabeled, "The 4th of July as brought to you by Will Smith" back when a Will Smith action movie actually meant it was going to be a fireworks-packed, all-you-can-eat-barbeque-ribs, no-holds-barred, alien-smashing, celebration worthy of the birthday of the world's oldest-surviving with a continuously-operating government country on the face of the globe (insofar as we know, and we don't know that we aren't the puppets of the hive mind of the bees).

The 4th of July as brought to you by Will Smith.
[Don't worry that does not break the record for longest sentence ever, not even close, but it does capture how exasperatingly good both Will Smith and this movie are. Exasperating because most people, well maybe only I, didn't want there to be a better super hero movie this summer/year than Iron Man. And, probably, Hancock actually isn't quite as good, but it's within a George Carlin word or 50 shy. It's actually kind of too bad that the writers decided that potty mouth is back in and to virtually exhaust George Carlin's list in the first 10 minutes. Had it stopped there, it might have made Hancock more kid friendly than it is from the language point of view. It's still also quite bloody and violent, which is also a shame for the kids who might really get to dig this film without having to break house rules and get the "all you have is your honor" speech from their parents and guardians trying to do the right thing. And, it is the right thing really for pre-teens, probably, not to see this film un-chaperoned. They'll hear worse on certain cable channels, but to be on the safe side, if you want them to see the film, and it's never a bad idea to preview it yourself first, go along with them and be informed or able to answer questions.

The Concept is much as the preview reveals, though bucking recent trends, the trailer editors have wisely decided to reveal only a taste of what's to come. Their decision makes the film far, far better. There's lots to be learned about how they edited their trailer to make Hancock seem like it's got a lot of comedic potential, which it lives up to, but hides some excellent twists and turns along with much of the true story behind, John Hancock (Will Smith) and how he came to be a reluctant superwash-up. Having fallen on socially difficult times, and not knowing really who he is, hence the name John Hancock, the outcast superhero of Los Angeles gets an image makeover from Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) when the two meet during one of Hancock's mishaps that occurs as he's saving Ray's life. The P.R. guru immediately gravitates to the misunderstood misanthropic ne'er do well super hero offering him a home cooked meal and an introduction to his son who quickly becomes his biggest fan. Ray suggests serving some time in prison along with cleaning up his attitude as his first steps on the road to recovery both from his bout with alcohol and messy crime fighting. Semi-suspicious of his motives but also having a profound change of heart, Hancock takes the advice. (for more plot details see the spoiler link above).

Rounding out the cast are an intentionally mousey Charlize Theron as Ray's wife, Mary, and Jae Head as their son Aaron. There's also a cast of thousands in the villain category, but none were so smart as to really stand out. Hancock faced up a truly villainous bad guy, but a sequel would be needed with a real Lex Luthor to be worthy of the moniker arch-enemy of Hancock whose powers are mostly cloned from the cloth of Superman® with the exception of the ability to (oops, that's for the spoiler). Really, it turns out, this is not an ensemble cast film of the type that director Peter Berg has become so famous. Rather, this is more of an enhanced character study into the hero archetype of today. It's impossible not to view the first 20 minutes or so and think of the bad boys of the NBA or NFL who have so much potential to be role models for kids, who perform super-human feats on the court or field, and then find themselves on the front page instead of the sports pages for their not-so-sponsorship-worthy notorious, evening activities. In that, Mr. Berg, and writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, have painted a useful social allegory including getting down to some of the reasons these modern day heroes are destined to fall from glory without a lot more hard work than some seem willing to put out. Simultaneously, the film, therefore, urges even greater respect for the many professional athletes who give tirelessly both in and out of the spotlight toward their stainless steel, squeaky-clean image…the so-called 'really good guys.' Honestly, there are more of these men and women than the opposite, they just get far less news coverage. Meanwhile, a pro can sponsor an entire charity event and get a mere mention on the Society page, one day, and then full coverage for one misdeed the next. And this, perhaps, is one of the more important lessons that Hancock has for fans of our modern-day heroes be they politicians, scientists, philanthropists, musicians, actors, or you public servants: doctors, nurses, teachers, fire fighters, police officers, or the men and women who serve to protect our nation in our armed forces and countless other professions too many to name here, must learn. We are all only human, and there are very few of us alive that haven't made one or more colossally stupid decisions in our lives. "But for the grace of Mother Earth go I," in other words. In this sense, and others that cannot be revealed without spoiling both the magic of the film or the rest of the plot, the film turns out to be a great deal deeper than the average super hero movie especially when it comes to getting at the super hero psyche which apparently fascinates a good deal of we mere moral human beings. Will Smith's portrayal will surprise most who may have begin to wonder if he could be a true leading action figure again without blowing it. He does so brilliantly. Unlike his role in I Am Legend, there's no over-acting here. He's as real as they come, and in the marvelous way he navigates the evolution of his character, some could say, this really is his best performance ever. There's no embellishment that rings somewhat shallow. He takes the role in stride. Meanwhile, Jason Bateman, whom Berg also cast in his The Kingdom, cannot seem to steer clear of these kinds of roles. If anyone can find significant things about his performance that would make you know he's a different character than that which he played in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium—how quickly we forget—and the more recent Academy Award® Winning Juno, please, by all means post your comments below. No doubt, he's very good at playing this character, to the point of causing one to wonder why they bother to change the character's name. It's actually not super different than his signature kid character of David Hogan on "Valerie" aka "The Hogan Family" or dare we even go back to his role of Derek in "Silver Spoons"—which, if you remember that, I'm probably not going to be the first person to let you know, you're getting up there in years or you're an iMDB junkie. This is not to say that I'm not a fan of Jason Bateman. Far from it. I saw Teen Wolf Too. Rather it's to say it would be kind of great to seem him push himself a bit more emotionally in his roles and demonstrate a bit more—make that a lot more—of his range. With all due apologies, not much can be written about Charlize Theron's performance except that you might spend around the first 30 minutes of the film trying to figure out who she is; and, then when you realize that, indeed, that is the former Academy Award®-winning best actress there before your eyes playing the mousey wife character who's about as interesting as her dishwater blonde hair, it will be too late, and you'll realize why she's there rather than just some blonde, dreamy creampuff of the day. (Uh oooooh, that's awfully close to saying too much, which, in and of itself is saying too much, just go see the darn movie and quit trying to get it out of me unless you want to spoil it in which case just go read the blasted spoiler instead.)

So, well, Hancock is just shy of being as good as Iron Man. On the social justice front, it fails a bit not due to bad intentions rather, perhaps, to overly trite intentions. On the acting plane, both characters served as a sort of Phoenix for their leading men. As to story line, the edge might go slightly to Hancock, actually, which relies more on better mythology than Iron Man which has to invent more of its own. Both do the right thing in the first installment of a great superhero movie, they focus on the hero and not the villains. Both share a passion for juxtaposing both the super and tragic hero elements making both equally compelling and interesting. Both have a good heart.

…just shy of being as good as Iron Man.
The overall edge still goes to Iron Man because Robert Downey Jr.'s return to form would stand to have been a great deal harder to predict. Will Smith may have lost 6.25% of his fans after his stint in the world of calculated drama, but Robert Downey Jr. was probably just the opposite. Nonetheless, Will Smith did do something pretty special with his role here in getting back in touch with his own superhero self without the gruesome over-acting of I Am Legend. Oh, just stop worrying about which is better and go see for your self. Unfortunately, with The Dark Knight about to fly next weekend, this summer is turning out to be a superhero showdown of epic proportions with even the new The Incredible Hulk showing up the original.

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring Hancock (2008)
Cast Members
Will SmithCharlize TheronJason Bateman
Jae Head
Peter Berg
Vincent NgoVince Gilligan
CD Soundtrack

Review-lite Hancock (2008) [max of 150 words]
The real Will Smith is back to the form everyone had grown to assume would come with each and every celebration of the 4th of July as superwash-up Hancock. In this highly allegorical story with taps ancient and new mythology, we watch the emergence of a true hero from a misguided, somewhat misanthropic character under the guidance of an image consultant (Jason Bateman as Ray Embrey) who has a life-changing experience the day Hancock saves his life. Shy of the greatness that was Iron Man, Hancock nonetheless lives up to expectations of a great action hero adventure with the added dimensions of more heart and more mystery.

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