It’s Independence Day so what would be more appropriate than reviewing the new Will Smith movie?

Unfairly I think, Hancock is getting absolutely ravaged by critics. Please do yourself a favor and don’t read any reviews (including my links below) because many of them reveal the film’s third-act twist. Admittedly this is the cause of most of the critical dissatisfaction with the film. According to Tom Charity at CNN:

Writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan have concocted an outrageous, mind-boggling twist that comes so far out of left field you would need a crystal ball to see it coming.

Then call me Professor Marvel because the twist had occurred to me fairly early on and I became certain of it at least five minutes before it happened. You could say the twist occurs unexpectedly but the groundwork is laid throughout the first two acts and I found it in keeping with the themes of the film.

I actually appreciated the change of direction because I like sudden tonal shifts in movies, like From Dusk to Dawn or even Sunshine, that surprise but at the same time fulfill genre expectations.

Most refreshing, Hancock is just different from most other superhero movies so far. It doesn’t spend the first half of the movie on the hero’s origin story but flings us into the world of Los Angeles and its recalcitrant protector in media res. It’s also different from most other Will Smith movies insofar as Hancock never smiles and the one time he tries results in a horrible grimace revealing even worse teeth.

Its emphasis (perhaps repetitive) on damaged infrastructure during superpowered confrontations mercifully acknowledges the pink elephant in the room of every other comic book action movie, in which urban centers are laid waste on a frequent basis but the population still loves the heroes. It is helpful to remind ourselves that if superheroes really existed and operated as they always do in movies, we would probably be neither pleased nor amused.

And unlike most superhero films with huge supporting casts, this is more like a three-person play about Will Smith, Jason Bateman, and Charlize Theron’s characters. Bateman benefits the most from this arrangement with much more screen time than the trailer would lead you to believe; he is more like the co-star of the film. And for possibly the first time in his career his character is completely likable, optimistic, and compassionate without any lurking creepiness (Juno most recently) or pathological denial (Arrested Development).

It is not perfect but thanks to some judicious cuts the movie is in better form than its May preview and is a thousand times better than the uninspired script it was originally based on which went absolutely nowhere (spoilers throughout this script review). That may be a backhanded compliment, but I found Hancock a fun departure from the usual fare in the most superhero-laden year since 2004.


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