Hancock

A powerful being who does more harm than good isn’t funny — it’s scary. Scarier still, at least to some citizens of this great land, is a powerful black being. (Remember that in the fall, when what Jon Stewart calls “Baracknophobia” swings into high gear.) Still, Hancock, starring Will Smith as a drunken, surly übermensch who costs Los Angeles more in property damage than the bank robberies he’s wantonly trying to stop, doesn’t get much into race — at first. Hancock isn’t hated because he’s a black superman — he’s hated, like Jack Smurch in James Thurber’s satirical story “The Greatest Man in the World,” because he has remarkable gifts and yet is still a dickhead. (He’s like Mike Tyson without the clammy psychosexual unease.) At the same time, he’s every racist’s worst stereotypical nightmare — an embodiment of what crackers think blacks will do with a little power (get drunk, bust shit up, sleep on park benches).

It’s good — isn’t it? — that Will Smith, probably Hollywood’s most valuable African-American player, feels comfortable enough to take on a role like Hancock. (Much as I admire him as a filmmaker, I shudder to think what Spike Lee will have to say about it.) Smith invests Hancock with enough of his offhand charisma to put us on his side no matter how much damage he wreaks. Hancock isn’t evil; he’s just lost, the only superhuman on earth (as far as he knows), and he’d rather be left alone to drain bottles and forget how weird his life is. He muscles through the movie under a cloud of sarcasm: at this point he’s so bored by criminals he just plants himself in their back seat during a police pursuit, waiting for them to be stupid so he can make this outing somewhat worth his while.

Teaming Will Smith the alcoholic Superman with Jason Bateman was a stroke of casting genius. Bateman is Ray, a struggling worker bee in public relations, whose life Hancock saves; Ray pays him back by offering to improve Hancock’s image. Ray’s young son (Jae Head) idolizes Hancock; his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) doesn’t — she can hardly stand to be in the same room with him, it seems. Theron summons up some power in her sparring with Smith, who makes Hancock baffled and intrigued — who is this woman who seems to have as much contempt for him as he does for most humans? Scurrying around all this, trying to make everyone happy, Bateman draws on his quick-witted Michael Bluth groundedness and keeps the movie founded on humanity. (It’s also a treat for Arrested Development fans to see him reunited with Theron, his girlfriend in the “Mr. F” storyline.)

Directed by the perpetually underrated Peter Berg, Hancock delivers the comic-book thrills with a twist — the movie may have scooped what the Iron Man sequels probably intend, making Tony Stark an erratic drunk useless as a hero. (It also scoops the Watchmen movie with its sequence of Hancock jailed among all the criminals he put behind bars.) The script’s iconoclastic take on powerful immortals took me back to Alan Moore’s Miracleman, of all things, wherein the god met a goddess, making his mortal wife feel like a weak bag of meat. The film leaves us with a lot to chew on vis-à-vis race and power, especially when Hancock learns more about his past (shrouded in amnesia) — it’s not the usual toothless riff on Richard Pryor’s “Supern—–” routine. Some have voiced issues with the third act, but that’s where I felt it got really interesting. Though not based on an existing comic book, Hancock is like a graphic novel that perhaps leads to a regular series — at least I hope it does, either onscreen or on the comics racks. It’s certainly the most complexly ornery superhero flick we’re likely to get this summer.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, comedy

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