Hancock: Special Edition (2 Discs) Review
For reasons that he does not know, John Hancock (Will Smith) is a superhero. He can fly, he has the strength of a thousand men and is impervious to bullets, knives and, we can only assume, bombs. He is, to all intents and purposes, Superman. But where the Man of Steel is an all-American hero, Hancock is a bum. As this film opens, he is asleep on a park bench, only waking to take a slug from a brown-bagged bottle of whiskey and grab a feel off a passing woman. Even a passing child tells Hancock that he's an asshole. Elsewhere in the city, the police are in hot pursuit of gang members in a white SUV. Hancock draws the chase to a close by crashing into the rear seat of the SUV, bringing it to a halt by dragging his feet along the freeway and dropping the car on top of the needle on the Capitol Building. Hancock thinks it's a job well done but the city is outraged. As per Hancock's way, the arrest of three petty criminals has cost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. As policing goes, Hancock is expensive.
Later, Hancock saves the life of Ray Embrey when his car becomes trapped on a level crossing. To do so, he almost injures another driver, derails the train and causes untold damage. Even the crowd that gathers around him ask him why he couldn't just life Embrey's car out of the way of the train. Why, he's asked, does he have to be such an asshole? Embrey steps in, though, to thank Hancock for saving his life. Not too proud to recognise some appreciation for his efforts, Hancock accepts Embrey's invitation of a home-cooked meal. Over spaghetti and meatballs, Embrey explains that Hancock is the victim of bad press, albeit brought about by his rather inept way of fighting crime. Hoping to return the good deed, Embrey volunteers himself as Hancock's PR and he starts with a novel plan for Hancock to win the hearts and minds of Los Angelinos.
Given the way of Hollywood, it's easy to imagine how Hancock probably started as a much darker story of a superhero struggling with such real-life temptations as sex, alcohol and gambling and battling not only everyday villains but also the cultures of compensation, of victimhood and of the instant reportage of the Internet. Apparently it once was. Screenwriter Vincent Ngo wrote Tonight, He Comes as the story of a fallen superhero and a twelve-year-old boy who tries to put things right with him but between Ngo's original story and this film, someone thought it best to cast Will Smith as John Hancock and to strip out much of the drama in favour of comedy.
Unfortunately, in doing so, writers Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan don't quite manage to strike the right number of laughs. Instead, their film lurches between the earlier, funnier scenes and the later drama, never finding a balance between the two. As well as the opening car chase, which pitches the film as a comedy, Embrey shows us some Youtube footage of Hancock in action, be it his arriving after rescuing someone from a burning building with his ass hanging out of his still-smoking trousers, thus revealing himself to a group of children, or his dealing with a beached whale by throwing it back into the ocean, where it capsizes a yacht. Later, Hancock deals with a local bully by tossing him into the air, not merely a foot or two but to such a height as to trouble passing jets, then waiting for him to arrive back on the ground, frazzled and somewhat worse for wear. The biggest laugh comes from Hancock finally (and explicitly) making good on his threat to stick one villain's head up the ass of another. That done, it seems as though, basking in the laughter of the audience, Hancock is done with comedy.
These moments are all fine and very funny but they trick the viewer into thinking that Smith will pull the same trick here that he did with Men In Black and sustain the laughs until the very end. It doesn't. Peter Berg and his writers introduce a huge twist halfway through the film that ups the drama at the expense of the comedy. Without giving it away, it causes Hancock to experience a romance that causes a crisis in his powers. It both comes from an unexpected source and has an unexpected effect on Hancock. Soon after, much of downtown Los Angeles is destroyed in a tornado strewn fight and Hancock takes a bullet. Meanwhile, a bank robber that Hancock put away wants his revenge and is prepared to wait for the perfect moment to do so.
I suppose that Hancock is what it is. It's not quite a comedy, not quite a drama and not quite a superhero movie. Had it not spent quite so long on the opening car chase, it might have had sufficient time to fit in more varied scenes of Hancock's ineptness. We seem glimpses but I would imagine that anyone who reads this can come up with half a dozen (or more) examples of how a alcoholic superhero might struggle with crime fighting. Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan don't even manage that. Similarly, what drama there is only seems to be there to fix a situation whereby Hancock becomes mortal. This seems to compensate for Hancock's lack of a super-villain. By making him ordinary, Hancock makes its hero vulnerable. However, this is a con. We know that Smith will no more fall victim to common criminal Red Parker (Eddie Marsan) than to a kick in the balls.
Berg probably wasn't the right director for Hancock. Sam Raimi has proved himself capable of just the right mix of comedy and superhero action over three Spider-Man films but where Berg ought to have played Hancock as a pitch-black satire, he drags in notes of seriousness as if this is actually making anything like a point. Then again, it can't have been easy for Berg when the MPAA have such a bugbear about alcohol as our own BBFC once did about nunchakas. Where we might watch Hancock and say there's very little that could offend anyone, the MPAA scowled at it and threatened it with an R rating on account of Hancock supping from a whiskey bottle in the presence of a minor. Never mind the super-ejaculate that punches holes in the roof of Hancock's trailer - he warns the young woman in his company to remove her hand and to sit well back - it's the demon drink that caused the MPAA to fret. An odd state of affairs indeed and one that doubtless hampered Berg and Smith's attempts to find comedy in a bum capable of flying at supersonic speeds, of fighting crime and of being super-strong, all while under the influence of premium-strength spirits. Anyone would think that there ought to be plenty of laughs to be had with that. But be it the fault of the MPAA or Berg and company, Hancock proves that there isn't.
From a theatrical release this year, one would expect Hancock to arrive on DVD in good shape and it doesn't disappoint. It captures the less photogenic parts of Los Angeles well, particularly the off-licences that Hancock frequents and his home that he has parked up in the hills. However, the special effects are a bit of a mixed bag. The early scenes of Hancock flying through the city, in much the same shape as you might expect a drunk to fly, are fine but it's clear that Berg has little interest in the storm that tears through Los Angeles. Instead, it's as though he simply handed the backgrounds over to a dedicated effects unit having already filmed the close-ups with the actors and paid no heed to it as they filled it with lightning, tornadoes, a snow storm, the tossing about of articulated lorries and crumbling buildings. However, even then, the DVD itself is fine, albeit with some artefacts within the bluster of these effects. The DD5.1 audio track is much the same, making good use of the surround channels and packing some heft when it needs to but showing little flair in the dinner-table conversations in the Embrey household. Finally, there are a range of subtitles.
Unrated Version: Admittedly the super-ejaculate as mentioned earlier only appears in this alternate cut (98m02s), snipped from the main feature (88m31s), but this, alongside her approach to Hancock in a bar, is the only major addition to it. These all taken together, this alternate cut adds about another ten minutes but it only tinkers with the action here and there. For example, Mary (Charlize Theron) arrives at Hancock's trailer via a different means than she does in the theatrical cut but there is very little else.
Super-Humans: The Making Of Hancock (12m54s): There's little messing about in this feature, which, without any fanfare, gets struck into interviews with producers Akiva Goldsman and Michael Mann and star Will Smith. They quickly get down to claiming how they formed a perfect team but amidst the backslapping, it goes absolutely nowhere. They also give away all of the twists and turns in the film but don't so much explain any of them as just skip through the film like a stone, only touching on the important revelations. Add to that some effects footage, some on-location movie-making and clips from the movie and you have a short and rather dull little feature.
Seeing The Future (16m13s): I was rather hoping that this would be a piece of cod-science that claimed how, thanks to nanotechnology or some such, we could all be like Hancock one day. Sadly not, it would seem, as this sings the praises of pre-visualisation over simple storyboarding before showing us examples from the film, including the bank robbery, the SUV chase and the midtown fight scene, presented University Challenge style of one being on top of the other. And just to prove that it's not all super-flying and super-strength, we even get the liquor-store hold-up. These are interspersed with on-location shoots.
Building A Better Hero (8m16s): John Dykstra is both praised and interviewed in this feature to explain how Hancock got its special effects in place. To be fair, the effects aren't bad but in between the interviews, all we get is Will Smith will little pin-points of light on his face as he's set up for what will be added in post-production. Although that big ball of zapping lights does look pretty cool in a it-would-eventually-cause-cancer-of-the-eyes-and-brain kind of way. This is followed by Bumps And Bruises (10m29s), which features more of the live-action scenes rather than those generated on computers. Still, it's not any more interesting because of it.
Home Life (10m49s): And who could have asked for this? Given all the special features we could have on this two-disc special edition, what we get is one on the building of the Embrey house for the making of this film. We even get to hear how it's been dressed to make it seem like the home of a young family while also giving away clues as to the twists in the film.
Suiting Up (8m23s): Having done the house, we move on to Hancock's clothes, be it the sweat-shirt, cap and shorts that he wears at the start of the film before the black leather suit that he wears in his rebirth. The cut of this suit is very Wolverine in its look while also acknowledging The Incredibles with the lack of a cape.
Mere Mortals: Behind The Scenes With Dirty Pete (3m57s): That's Peter Berg, who actually doesn't seem to do anything particularly 'dirty' in the on-set footage that's presented here, not unless 'dirty' includes playing golf and doing a Rubik's cube. Which they might be if it involved naked people and a lot of lubrication, particularly where the Rubik's cube is concerned, but they don't. But that may have been the MPAA once again.
Finally, there is a set of Trailers for other Sony releases.