Review: Hancock

Will Smith as Hancock

I went to see Hancock quite by chance as the film I had intended to see was sold out.

John Hancock is not a nice man. He’s a bad tempered drunk who lives in a trailer and generally irritates the hell out of everyone he meets. He’s also a superhero. That is to say he has superhuman powers and stops crime but he does so by leaving a trail of destruction in his path.

Ray Embrey is a PR man with a heart who wants to make the world a better place but is having trouble getting anyone to buy into his ideas. When Hancock saves him from a terminal encounter with a train Ray realizes that whilst he may be struggling to save the world he can save Hancock.

I wasn’t sure what I expected but it wasn’t quite what I got. I guess – based on the trailer – I was expecting a comedy around the not terribly original premise that being a hero might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I did get that but I also feel that’s selling the film a bit short.

Sure there are laughs. It’s not really meant to be taken that seriously but there’s this interesting seam of loneliness running through the whole thing that gives the film a much stronger emotional centre than I’d expected. It’s unusual and welcome.

There’s a lot of affection for the comic book genre on display as the writing team – consciously or unconsciously – seem to have borrowed from Jack Kirby. There’s an almost palpable sense of fun in the gentle pokes they take at the genre but they never stray far from the central storyline.

The film is not without its faults. The casting of Eddie Marsan as the film’s villain is problematic as despite Marsan’s best efforts he just isn’t entirely convincing – this may be more of a problem in the UK where he is better known than in the US. Whilst the film is clearly a Will Smith vehicle there is a problem in his casting as Hancock. In I am Legend he was believable as a lonely guy because of the situation and his haunted performance. Smith’s media persona is such that you can’t ever really forget that it’s him and so the idea of Smith being lonely when surrounded by a bunch of people is a bit of a struggle.

There’s also a really clunky link between the second and third act.

Yet these are minor quibbles that the respective actors’ talents minimise. Taken as a whole, Hancock is an entertaining film that delivers on the laughs without skimping on story. The climactic action sequence was totally absorbing. My conclusion: there are worse ways to spend your evening.

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