Last summer the big trend was trilogies. The third installments of the "Shrek," "Spider-Man," "Pirates of the Caribbean," and "Bourne" franchises all arrived in one season.
This year it's superheroes. And we're right in the middle of it. First there was "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk." This week it's "Hancock." Next week we'll have "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army." The best's probably going to be the last, though: July 18th's "The Dark Knight," the sequel to "Batman Begins," the greatest of all superhero films.
I imagine that "Hancock" is likely to be the weak one of the bunch. If you have to miss one superhero picture this summer then this is probably the one to take a break from if you fear superhero burnout. That's not to say it should be avoided, though.
In Hancock (Will Smith) we have a different twist on the superhero mythos. He's someone with the flight, strength and invulnerability of Superman who doesn't really want to use it. Instead of flying around saving the world he'd rather get drunk and hit on every woman that walks past him.
And when he does utilize his power, he tends to leave millions of dollars worth of damage in his wake. The film opens with him pursuing a car filled with gun-wielding thugs. As the police chase the vehicle in a high speed pursuit in comes Hancock, flying drunk, with the chorus of the Ludacris song "Move Bitch" playing - perhaps one of the most inspired, perfect usages of a rap song in recent cinema. When the villains taunt the hung-over hero he reacts with rage comparable to the Hulk, flinging their car throughout the city before impaling it on a famous monument.
Hancock's next act of heroism is equally expensive in its destructive cost. When public relations expert Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) gets stuck in his car in the path of an oncoming train Hancock drops in front of the locomotive to save him. Ray's life is saved but the train gets derailed and destroyed. Angry citizens surround the hero and demand to know why he didn't just move Ray's car instead.
Ray, the idealistic PR man sees a unique opportunity in the gruff superhero. He invites Hancock to his home to meet his son and wife Mary (Charlize Theron.) Having befriended the lonely hero, Ray then works to persuade Hancock to change his ways. Eventually Hancock agrees and starts by turning himself in to the police for a prison term and alcohol rehabilitation. This results in Los Angeles' crime rates skyrocketing. When a hostage situation arises a newer, cleaner, more polite, non-drunk Hancock shows up in costume to save the day like a classic superhero would.
The film succeeds primarily on the strength of its lead. Smith really belongs where he's at on the A-list of Hollywood stars. He's an actor who's worth watching no matter what. Drop him into a picture and you'll get a performance that usually raises the film a full letter grade. If it weren't for Smith then "Hancock" would be a C. It would be entirely forgettable. Just imagine the film with a lesser actor as the titular superhero. It really wouldn't be worth seeing. Smith, though, creates a compelling, endearing creation. This isn't the first time Smith has transformed a mediocre film into a good one. He did it with 2004's "I, Robot." Last year he made a good film a great one with "I Am Legend." There's only so much that an amazing actor can do, though. With 2005's "Hitch" he upgrades a film from lousy to average.
"Hancock" is also helped by the clever turn it takes in its third act. It has a smart twist I didn't see coming that makes an interesting comment on the genre and superhero mythology as a whole.
Perhaps it's appropriate that in the season of superheroes "Hancock" arrives smack in the middle between the more traditional examples of the genre. It's a variation of a theme of Alan Moore's classic comic Watchmen. It's a playful, lightweight deconstruction of the superhero genre. And while it would be nice if it went deeper in exploring the superhero psyche all we need to do is wait until next March when Warner releases "300"-director Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation.