(2008) Superhero (Columbia) Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan, Jae Head, David Mattey, Thomas Lennon, Johnny Galecki, Nancy Grace, Mike Epps, Hayley Marie Norman, Darrell Foster, Liz Wicker. Directed by Peter Berg
We look to our heroes to be paragons of virtue. They are handsome (or beautiful), brave, selfless and modest. However, not all heroes are built that way. Sometimes it takes more of a hero to overcome the lack of those qualities and still remain heroic.
Hancock (Smith) is one such. He is irritable and socially awkward. He is also a raging alcoholic who often makes a shambles of his attempts to help – the clean-up bills for his appearances are often more than what he prevented from being stolen. The public despises him because of his attitude and his apparent uncaring that his actions cause millions misery.
One day he rescues an idealistic P.R. flack named Ray Embrey (Bateman) from certain death when he stops his car from being hit by a train. Grateful, he takes Hancock home for dinner, introducing him to his wife Mary (Theron) and his son Aaron (Head). Ray offers Hancock his services to help rehabilitate his image but Hancock sullenly declines. Mary, who has taken an intense dislike to Hancock, tells Ray he’s a lost cause and to forget him.
Part of Hancock’s issue is that he has no memory of his past. He doesn’t know how he wound up where he is, only that he’s there. Now he wants more, having had a taste of a normal life. Reluctantly, he agrees to have Ray rehabilitate him.
Part of Hancock’s rehabilitation involves him making amends, so Hancock agrees to go to prison to make up for all the damage he’s caused. While there Ray designs a new suit for him so that when the city becomes besieged by criminals who are attacking citizens with impunity, realizing Hancock isn’t around, Hancock will be ready to display his new image – and he does and as Ray predicts, people begin to love him. However, there is something on the horizon – something that goes back to the secret of Hancock’s past, something far more insidious or deadly than any super villain.
In many ways, this is one of the more imaginative super hero movies to come along. Here we have a hero who isn’t particularly likable, played by an actor who is known for his charm. The result is a little surprising. We’ve never seen Will Smith like this before.
Bateman, who is currently one of the most sought-after comedic actors in the business, was more or less known more for his TV roles as a juvenile (and getting his career jumpstarted again with “Arrested Development” after essentially losing the 90s to drug use and alcohol) before Hancock and it is his performance here that really ignited his movie career.
Theron has good chemistry with Smith and her little secret is surprising (if you haven’t seen the movie I won’t reveal it here) and well-played. Unfortunately, the studio blundered into revealing the secret in the trailer so if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t watch it before renting the movie.
The special effects are surprisingly unremarkable, although I think most of the big-budget big-ticket superhero movies have pretty much shown off all a superhero can do, at least at present. There is a climactic battle that doesn’t seem particularly spectacular, although there are some shots that are pretty nifty.
What I like about the movie is the smart premise and the different take on the superhero, one who is vulnerable emotionally and not always there to save the day for the right reasons. He is fully capable of messing up, and often does, doing more harm than good despite his best intentions – and his intentions aren’t always his best. Hancock is depicted as going through the motions, another day at the office. Even a superhero has off days.
There is a generous amount of humor here but the filmmakers play it surprisingly safe, which I think is a good call. Turn this into a spoof and it just becomes another shot at comic book fandom (and there are plenty of those out there). However, play it straight and it becomes a serious look at what makes a hero heroic. We see that the best of men can be humbled, and it is often the not-quite-the-best of men who make the best of heroes.
WHY RENT THIS: An unusual take on the superhero genre. Bateman is awesome in a role that helped turbo charge his career.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A noticeable shift in tone from the first part of the movie to the last reel.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of action-like violence peppered by a few bad words here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Mary gets ready for bed, she is wearing a Macalester College t-shirt; that is director Peter Berg’s alma mater.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a single disc DVD with just the movie, a two-disc Special DVD edition which has both the theatrical release and unrated versions of the movie, also available on the Blu-Ray which gives viewers the option to watch the eight-part making-of featurette as a picture-in-picture accompaniment to the main movie.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $624.4M on a $150M production budget; the movie was a hit.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Conan the Barbarian (2011)