A Superhero "Smaller than Life"

Note: the following post contains language that some may find offensive.

Will Smith is the golden boy of Hollywood, especially around the Fourth of July weekend. His movies are not only guaranteed box office smashes, but pure summer entertainment. Yet with all of these high expectations, Will Smith’s latest performance is getting less than stellar reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes.

Hancock (Will Smith) is a superhero, but this is a very different and unusual superhero story. First of all you are not going to find this superhero on the pages of your favorite comic books. Unlike the superhero movies of the summer, like Iron Man, Hulk and Batman, Hancock is not a comic to screen adaptation. Secondly Hancock is unlike any other superhero you’ve ever seen. Most superheroes from the comic books, and now big screen movies, have a mythology around them. But not Hancock.

Most superheroes wrestle over the fact that with great power comes great responsibility – except for  Hancock. Hancock is a tortured soul. He is disgruntled, indifferent towards others, conflicted, and sarcastic. Hancock dresses like a homeless man, drinks too much and talks like a truck driver. Hancock is a man with incredible powers who happens to be going through a personal, existential crisis. Hancock moves around the city clumsily with his superhuman heroics but every time he flexes his superhuman muscle he only leaves catastrophic damage in his wake.

It has gotten so bad, people hate him. Sure it’s cool for the city of Los Angeles to have their very own superhero. But the toll on the city has finally outweighed any benefits that might come of it. Life doesn’t seem to be going well for Hancock until the day that he saves the life of PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). From that point on, Hancock’s life takes a significant change.

Certainly Hancock is a superhero that you and I can identify with. He lives in our world. He has our struggles. He wrestles with our dilemmas. And he has our temptations. Hancock is not so “other” that he seems irrelevant and distant from our own experiences. Hancock resonates with us.

Hancock touches on some our deepest fears and pains. For example, the fear of being alone and the pain of not being loved or wanted. In one scene, he tells he tells Ray and his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) over dinner that he’s a son of a bitch because he can’t remember being anything but alone, unloved and unwanted. “What kind of a bastard must I have been, for nobody to claim me?” Many of us share these same wounds. Yet these wounds of the heart can only be addressed with the healing salve of the gospel, unlike Hancock’s solution which is through the pursuit of splashy heroics.

And yet even with the laughs, drama and a sympathetic character like Hancock, this movie doesn’t live up to the July 4th holiday hype.

During the final half of the movie, it spirals into the morass of trying to explain Hancock’s origins, which never seems to be made clear to the audience. Also the movie tries too quickly to develop several villains. The villains at the end seem out of place in the movie with undeveloped characters and unclear motivations.

If you want to see a better story about a superhero who is “smaller than life,” see Unbreakable. Having seen Hancock, I think M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable does a better job capturing the superhero story and the “indestructible” and “vulnerable” dissonance rather than Hancock.

You won’t completely waste you money if you go to see Hancock, but there are much better superheroes at the box office to choose from.

About Bill Reichart
  • http://www.kogmedia.com patrick

    Hancock looks like interesting spin on the latest superhero movie craze… if nothing else at least Will Smith tends to be pretty funny

  • KendallJaye

    I enjoyed the movie. It was a good, fun summer movie. This was never meant to be “The Dark Knight”. I’m pretty sure no one is watching Hancock for the plot anyhow.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.co.uk Alex Fear

    I have just seen the movie and whilst I agree about the lack of detail on the origins, I was quite content with the storyline and thoroughly enjoyed the whole movie.

    There were some great themes subtly touched on :- loneliness, sacrifice, purpose. Although it was not really explained, I actually liked the origin-weakness tie-in.

    I think the problem for us comic-book guys is that we don’t just watch superhero movies for entertainment, we’re also looking for mythos. Is it true to comic book version? Does it do the the character justice? The problem is Hancock does not have a comic book, so what we have is a kind of blank slate- perhaps the producers wanted to leave it open like that, why does every superhero have to have some sort of story explaining “why I decided to put on tights”.

    It actually reminded me of Highlander… look what happened when they tried to give that a backstory – The Quickening…

    Alex Fears last blog post..[Fearism] It’s Not About Looks Or Games

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