Less like a complete movie, Hancock plays out more like the first two episodes of a television series shown back to back.
Hancock (Will Smith) is a man with super powers, but the residents of Los Angeles think of him as anything but a hero. Sleeping on the streets, drunk most of the time, and causing damage everywhere he goes, Hancock still manages to deter crime only because no one’s quite sure what he’ll do to who or when. After Hancock saves the life of Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), Ray offers his public relations services to help the down-and-out hero recover his image, much to the resentment of Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), who sees Hancock as nothing more than a boozing, dangerous loser.
To say that Will Smith makes the character of Hancock his own would be an understatement; had Will Smith been born with super powers and depressed about his own existence, he would BE Hancock. Even when being the biggest super-powered jerk imaginable, Smith manages to exude presence and project the pain that is obviously eating Hancock up inside. This opens the door for Bateman’s character to work his mojo and put Hancock back on the straight and narrow. The problem with the movie overall is that this is only half of it, and a related but otherwise completely different story takes place upon its finish. Just after the bank heist scene, filmmakers may as well have put up a sign reading “Intermission” or at the very least “Chapter 2.”
Shrewd people will also notice that actress Charlize Theron is listed as being in the film but is mostly absent from the trailers. Interested yet smarter viewers might ask why cast Charlize Theron in the film at all since it all seems to be all about Bateman’s public relations character. The original premise of Hancock (originally titled “Tonight, He Comes”) was reportedly about a housewife (not her PR rep husband) who helps a super being become a hero. This is where the “Part 2” story comes in, which I won’t spoil here. The problem is that much of the second half could have been better edited together with the first half by a clever writer or editor instead of so completely isolating it to the second half. Alternately, more could have been done to explore who Hancock is (before his too-quick recovery) and save the rest for an eventual (if not already planned) sequel.
If he’s been around a while, did Hancock fight in World War II? Vietnam? Is he the inspiration for any comics or heroes? Are their any books, films, or any other media concerning the ONLY known super powered being on the planet? How long has the public even known he existed? Few of these things are explored and are instead replaced by an abbreviated time line that turns Smith from drunken, dangerous super guy into responsible, respectful super hero. Once that ends, Jason Bateman fades into the background and another story featuring the same people emerges but goes in a entirely different direction. Like “Episode One,” there’s very little time given to the story, so everything happens pretty fast.
Perhaps it was always the intention to script this film as a two-part origin story about a comic book hero that never actually came from a comic book. Will Smith embodies Hancock, flaws and all, like the professional he is, and he makes it look easy. To say that this will certainly result in a sequel may be presumptuous, but there are so many possibilities suggested by what little the plot hinted at that it’s hard to imagine someone doesn’t already have an idea for more. Will Mr. Smith be up for more? Only his producer knows for sure… oh wait, that was him, too.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)