"Hancock" feels like a metaphor for the stage that Spider-Man went through when he lost his powers and kept landing just shy of the building he was trying to leap to. The difference is, Spider-Man knew he was losing it. I'm not sure that the writers and director Peter Berg realize that this film is falling short.
It's one thing to have a superhero with very human qualities and a script that shows the consequences of his attempts to fight crime (like chunks of signage that he flew through landing on freeway cars and causing a pile-up). After all, look at the damage The Thing caused in every "Fantastic Four" movie, and all the wreckage other superheroes have left in their wake. But having John Hancock be a Skid-Row bum? Heck, we'd have had more fun if he was just a careless nice guy, instead of a loser who sleeps on park benches and reaches for the bottle the minute he's awakened. When this guy leaps into action, citizens don't cheer, they boo and jeer. That's because in situations that require a scalpel, he uses a chainsaw, with no regard for personal property or even people. And he smells. Except for an exciting opening sequence involving Asian gangsters and as much banter flying around as bullets, the film belabors the point that Hancock has hit rock bottom. Not even Will Smith as the title character can make it seem more fun in the early going, but that's because there aren't more funny scenes like his beached whale rescue, where he grabs monstro by the tail and chucks him back into the sea, toppling a sailboat in the process. More bits like that would have gone a long way toward blunting the tiresome bum routine, but it's only after Hancock rescues a PR man from a collision with a train that his life (and the life of this movie) begin to change for the better.
Jason Bateman brings some of his "Arrested Development" savvy and subtle humor to this at times directionless film, injecting it with a dose of "smart" and giving Smith someone to play off of. Ray Embrey (Bateman) is a PR man who would like to change the world, and while the world doesn't seem ready or willing to be changed, this erstwhile superhero is sure ripe for a makeover. Ray tells him he has to repair his image, and to do that it means facing up the damage he's recently caused to the city and serving time in prison. Say WHAT?
As crazy as it sounds, Ray's plan is to radically change Hancock's image by having him take responsibility for his actions, the thinking being that his sentence will be reduced once people spend time without their superhero and actually grow to miss him. Now, that's the angle I wish the filmmakers would spent more time on, because when it's the Smith and Bateman show, "Hancock" soars. Instead, we get a belated origin story, and it involves Ray's wife, Mary (Charlize Theron). The looks she's giving Hancock when her husband brings him home as if he were a stray puppy? They've got some sort of past, and you wonder instantly if we're looking at a very messy triangle here. Turns out, though, it's the logic that gets messy and muddled as can be, and a facile ending does little to help us figure it out. That's too bad, really, because this is the kind of film that had so much potential. The CGI work and special effects are decent but unspectacular--nothing we haven't seen before--and that only adds to the feeling that this could have been a much stronger picture. Jason Vargo thought even less of it than I did, saying in his review that he felt he was being generous giving it a 3 out of 10. Well, then that makes me look like Santa, giving it a 5.
"Hancock" comes to 1080p via AVC/MPEG-4 codec, and the picture looks vibrant though not oversaturated with color. There's nary a grain to be found, black levels are strong (though perhaps too strong in some scenes), and there's a nice sense of 3-dimensionality. Some of the action sequences feel a little softer, no doubt the result of the gap between CGI and live-action, but otherwise this is a nice, clean-looking picture in High Definition.
Sony has been married to Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) as of late, because it takes up less disc space than PCM, but the results have been positive. Though I wouldn't call this an extremely dynamic soundtrack, it's certainly lively, and with the dialogue, FX, and music nicely balanced. Audio options are English and French, with the lesser Dolby Digital 5.1 available in Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai. Available subtitles are English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (traditional), Chinese (simplified), Korean, Thai, and Indonesian.
Another thing Sony has been doing is putting their bonus features on HD. Rather than offering one or two big features, though, the studio has given fans seven short features ranging from four minutes to 15. The best by far is a brief feature on "Bumps and Bruises" (stunt work), where we come to appreciate how much Smith did himself, along with a pre-visualization storyboarding bonus feature that shows in simple and understandable terms how the technical stuff works. After these two brief features there's a drop-off. "Superhumans: Making Hancock" is the usual making-of feature that feels more like a pre-publicity promotion, a segment on special effects expert John Dykstra isn't long enough to give us much of a feel for what he does, one on production design is mostly for the curious, "Suiting Up" deals with costume design, and "Mere Mortals" is played for laughs--a self-conscious bit of tomfoolery surrounding director Berg. The BD-Live connection offers more preview/trailer downloads, and this edition offers a digital copy.
Like the main character, "Hancock" has an identity crisis. This film can't make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy, a darker grittier superhero tale, a straight action flick, or a superhero origin story. In trying to be all of them, "Hancock" feels confusing and watered down.