Posted: 07/03/2008




by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

…You can call him super, or you can call him a hero; just don’t call him an a**hole…

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

Will Smith’s John Hancock has the mega-hit superstar/former rapper/television star playing a down-on-his-luck, drunken superhero who is the city of Los Angeles’ worst nightmare. As Hancock tries to intervene and stop crime, he’s wreaking havoc all over the city, and leaving in his wake mounting property-damage bills.

It was hard getting used to Smith flying across the sky, walking through a hail of bullets, bursting through concrete sidewalks and lifting Mack trucks off the ground. But, okay, I got used to it. After one such “intervention,” where Hancock saves the day but costs the city more than $9 million in damages, he comes along a train wreck waiting to happen—literally!

Public relations executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) is about to get squashed by a train during evening rush hour, because cars are lined up in all directions, preventing him from escaping his vintage Mercedes. Hancock comes along and saves Ray’s life, right before the train comes barreling into the junction. He throws Ray’s car atop another car. But all is well, no one is hurt—except the train is totally wrecked.

And, of course, the law of reciprocity dictates that Ray does something for Hancock in return. The most obvious gesture would be to clean up Hancock’s image and make him “likable,” as most superheroes should be.

As Ray works with Hancock, teaching him what to avoid saying and doing, Hancock meets Ray’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and son, Aaron (Jae Head). But upon first meeting, the audience could tell that there’s some kind of history between Mary and Hancock.

At the dinner table during the weekly “Spaghetti Madness” event, where the family has meatballs and spaghetti, Hancock encourages Aaron to fight the neighborhood bully, before going off to the bathroom with liquor bottle in hand. Hancock, the superhero, is super, super mean, super insolent and super depressed. He hides his feelings well, and he’s never far from a bottle of liquor. The theme dinner plays well into Ray’s role as a family man whose bread and butter is earned through public relations campaigns.

While trying to polish Hancock’s image, Ray suggests that Hancock does time for the many arrest warrants that have been issued against him. Community members are up in arms about the destruction that Hancock leaves behind, and they think that he has considered himself above reproach. Nancy Grace, from CNN’s legal analysis show, is seen in a cameo telling Hancock, “You may be a superhero, but you’re not as strong as the U.S. Constitution,” in a plea advising Hancock to surrender to authorities. Ray encourages Hancock to do his time; he reasons that soon crime will certainly increase, and the police department will beg Hancock to come help fight crime as only he knows how.

The plan nearly backfires, leaving Hancock incarcerated for a couple of weeks before the Chief of Police bails him out to have him help out with a hostage situation at a bank. Ray has traded Hancock’s skid row outfit for a nice, slick, leather jumpsuit (in keeping with superhero attire). Hancock saves the hostages at the bank, even cleverly disengaging the head goon’s finger away from a bomb detonator. But that won’t be the last we see of the bank robber, because he’s got Hancock’s number. Someone else who has Hancock’s number is Mary. Her secret is finally revealed; a secret which I won’t share here, because it would spoil the movie.

There’s a long timeline involved, going back to a time before Christ (B.C.). Mary and Hancock have a storied history, one that Hancock had forgotten. In the end, the bank robber reenters the picture to seek revenge against Hancock for landing him in prison. But Hancock saves the day in more ways than one and is also free to continue his crime-stopping efforts.

It’s a different role for Smith, in that he’s mean, curses (even at women), drinks heavily and just has this dispirited personality and depressed demeanor. It’s a switch that even his children reportedly learned to embrace. His wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, is quoted as saying that the children know their father’s role in Hancock was all make-believe, and they understood because it’s show business.

As superhero movies go, I liked this movie, even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Iron Man. Smith’s portrayal of Hancock was entertaining enough. He’s the “superhero” with the “super heart.”

However, the link between he and Mary, once explained, is still kind of hard to grasp. This could be because the explanation is so hurriedly given, and next the two of them are engaged in “action” that confirms the backstory. The audience isn’t allowed much time to accept the plausibility of their relationship before we are forced to witness a surprise exchange between the two of them.

I’d be shocked if Hancock proves to be one of those summer blockbuster hits, the kind which Smith has enjoyed many July Fourth weekends. But during a time when there’s nothing but bad news in the media, this is a cool respite from “reality” and a nice way to get caught up in the premise of a neighborhood superhero.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.

Got a problem? E-mail us at