The super-hero film, much like the Western, is an eternally renewable Hollywood resource, something each generation of filmmakers is eager to reclaim as its own. Although comic book big-shots (the X-Men, Batman, Spiderman and Superman, to name a few) have dominated the resurgence of geek cinema, there have been a few, more contemplative ruminations on the genre of folks who dress oddly and fight crime -- recent examples include V for Vendetta, The Incredibles and M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, the film that's perhaps closest in tone to director Peter Berg's ambitious, but ultimately unsatisfying Hancock.
Like Unbreakable, Hancock aims to tell the story of an unconventional, borderline anti-hero, a man whose greatness is a burden rather than an asset. It's a witty, grungy and refreshing role for Will Smith, who more often than not, skates along on his charm and doesn't feel terribly compelled to push himself into unfamiliar or edgy territory (I Am Legend being an exception, of course). Smith stars as the titular super-being, an alcoholic asshole whose public image is, put charitably, a couple rungs below Britney Spears-in-full-meltdown-mode.
When Hancock saves good-hearted public relations rep Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from death by train, Ray asks to repay the favor by rehabbing Hancock's tarnished reputation. Grudgingly, the superhero agrees, and becomes an unlikely part of the Embrey family -- and his relationship with Ray's wife, Mary (Charlize Theron) pushes the film in surprising directions. This is all wrapped around a conventional narrative of good versus evil, which is personified in this case by thief Red Parker (Eddie Marsan). I'll avoid spoilers -- although the chumps at Sony didn't; they pretty much give the whole film away on the packaging -- but suffice to say that the final third of the film treads into much darker, higher-stakes territory than the relatively breezy, first two-thirds.
A lot of the fun of Hancock comes in Berg's treatment of his protagonist's action in a "real" environment -- when's the last time you saw the potential ramifications of a careless super-being? -- as well as the loose, quasi-verite style in which the film's shot. There's an energy to the film that leaves you wanting more (at least in the theatrical version), wishing the filmmakers had allowed a little more time for the characters to breathe. When's the last time you heard that in relation to a summer tentpole flick?
The cast is solid, as Smith seems to be having a lot of fun as the grouchy hero, while Bateman plays a variation on all of the overeager, slightly smart-ass characters he's been cast as for the last five years and Theron takes what appears to be, on the surface, a one-note character and makes it something much more intriguing. The screenplay, by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, takes great joy in bringing the high and mighty super-hero genre down a peg or two; the scenes of Hancock addressing the media, going through rehab, accepting his new uniform and handling well-worn moments like bank robberies with a sassy detachment is refreshing in an age of dour, downbeat heroes.
Hancock, while not perfect (the ending feels rushed and the big twist seems jammed into the narrative), is a lot of fun, the disposable kind. The visual effects coupled with the cast's willingness to play along make this a pretty engaging piece of popcorn entertainment and in an era of diminishing cinematic returns, that might just be enough.
The two-disc "unrated special edition" contains two different versions of Hancock: the 92-minute, PG-13 version and the 102-minute, unrated version. The differences between the two are fairly minor, for the most part; there's a bit more profanity in the unrated version and the most substantial addition falls within the first 10 minutes. It's an amusing scene displaying Hancock's sexual prowess, which helps explain a bit more clearly his inter-personal problems, but doesn't add anything of substance to the overall film.
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1, this anamorphic widescreen transfer sparkles throughout, handling the numerous, rapid-fire action sequences with aplomb. The colors are vivid throughout, blacks are inky without becoming noisy and the level of detail is expectantly crisp. An all-around great image.
Matching the visuals step-for-step is the robust Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which provides an immersive sonic experience. Flying glass, gunfire, punishing body blows and ceaseless property damage sounds fantastic throughout, with plenty of depth and punch, not to mention a clarity that allows dialogue and score to blend without each element fighting to be heard. Each cut -- theatrical and unrated -- has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. An optional French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included, as are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.
For review, DVD Talk was sent the two-disc unrated set (Hancock is also available in Blu-ray and a single disc edition). The first disc of this set includes both the 92-minute theatrical and 102-minute extended, unrated version of Hancock. Differences between the two cuts of the film are detailed above. The meat of the supplements are housed on the second disc, starting with a digital copy of the theatrical version (only playable on PS3s or PCs). The 12 minute, 50 second featurette "Superhumans: The Making of Hancock" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is a standard-issue look behind the scenes; the eight-part featurette "Seeing the Future" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 15 minutes, 59 seconds and delves into the pre-viz process, cutting between renderings and finished scenes. The eight minute, 14 second featurette "Building a Better Hero" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) explores the effects work of veteran John Dykstra; the 10 minute, 27 second "Bumps & Bruises" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) details the creation of the often visceral action sequences; the 10 minute, 47 second featurette "Home Life" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) gives an overview of the creation of the Embrey family home. The eight minute, 20 second featurette "Suiting Up" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) gives viewers a glimpse at Hancock's "uniform," while the three minute, 56 second "Mere Mortals: Behind the Scenes with 'Dirty Pete'" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) highlights director Berg's behind-the-camera antics. In a welcome touch, optional English and Spanish subtitles are available for all featurettes. Trailers for Blu-ray, The International, The Pink Panther 2, The House Bunny, Lakeview Terrace, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, The Pursuit of Happyness, Men in Black, Hitch and The Lazarus Project complete the package.
Hancock, while not perfect (the ending feels rushed and the big twist seems jammed into the narrative), is a lot of fun, the disposable kind. The visual effects coupled with the cast's willingness to play along make this a pretty engaging piece of popcorn entertainment and in an era of diminishing cinematic returns, that might just be enough. Recommended.