Year: 2008
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Peter Berg
Producer: Akiva Goldsman/Michael Mann/Will Smith
Cast: Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron
I read a few critical comments about this movie, but I was pleasantly surprised and thought it did everything it set out to do really well. It was the rarest of beasts, a 'think' movie with special effects.

Releasing it in late July and starring Will Smith, Sony had no choice but to market it as an action comedy, borrowing strongly from the introductory scene of Hancock destroying an overhead freeway to apprehend a car full of armed gangsters to sell itself.

But Peter Berg is shaping up to be a really impressive director and he not only got the comic and action tones as well as the dramatic tones just right, he blended them together really well. It would have been a hard movie to script right, let alone direct.

The message was clever and subtle (another first for a $100 million action movie) ; what would you end up like if you could do anything you wanted and nobody could stop you? Superhero John Hancock (Smith) is Superman without Superman's unshakable resolve for good, a hero without virtue. So he's become a slob and a drunk, destroying parts of Los Angeles while he's trying to save it, and the people of the city want no more of him, abusing him when he steps in causing such destruction.

Struggling PR guy Ray (Bateman) doesn't see it that way when Hancock destroys a goods train saving his life, and offers to help improve Hancock's public image in return. Hancock wants none of it, but Ray somehow convinces him to take part in a twelve-point plan to become loved again, shaving and cleaning himself up, getting a uniform befitting his station and doing a spell in prison to answer for the destruction he's caused society.

That could be the end of the joke, the premise plumbed for laughs as a superhero blunders through restoring his good stead with the people. But there's been something between Hancock and Ray's beautiful wife Mary (Theron), knowing and unsettled looks exchanged between the two from the first time Ray bought Hancock home.

What was between them is the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the movie. It also took the story off the comic track it had been on and got a little bit supernatural, which is why I think a lot of people didn't like it. But it explored the new theme really well and still delivered on the July-style flash and bang. It looks like it might have been a mess that got out of hand and just happened to all fall into place. I can't believe it was intentionally this subtle or effective.

I also read another really interesting theory. Watch for the repeated motif of an eagle - it's on the beanie Hancock rarely takes off, then his uniform, then it's his sidekick in the end when he goes to New York. The theory I read was that Hancock is an allegory for America, a misguided blunt instrument once heroic but now merely destructive, one nobody can stop or control and which everyone just wants to go away and stop causing more damage.

Either way, I saw the successful melding of those Hollywood qualities you rarely see together - interesting storytelling and entertaining visuals.

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