A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 122 – Hancock

Hancock – June 30th, 2010

Sure, let’s start with a car chase/shoot out juxtaposed with Will Smith passed out on a bus stop bench, obviously hungover or still drunk. And with the first poke of a woman’s ass, I dislike him (she does call him on it). It’s an inauspicious beginning for someone who’s supposed to be the hero of the movie and a hero in general. But that’s the point. He’s drinking and flying and he really doesn’t want to take the time and effort to save the day because he’s an ass, but hey, it’s what he does so what the hell, right?

We are firmly in anti-hero territory here, set in as close to the real world as a super hero movie is going to get. I was absolutely thrilled to hear a reporter actually say how much the damages Hancock caused in the opening scene will cost the city. I have long maintained that major metropolitan areas need meta-human insurance. Look at any Batman movie. Look at The Fantastic Four. Look at Ghost Rider. Think about the damage done by villains and heroes alike. Meta-human insurance, seriously. I’m also glad to see a little nod to Niven’s essay about Superman’s love life, or if not to Niven’s essay, to the concept behind it. Basically all the shitty down sides that would come with powers like that. And I mean all the shitty down sides, from isolation to inadvertent destruction. Not to mention not knowing his origins.

We do eventually find out where Hancock came from. Sort of. I mean, we find out enough about his past to know that there’s a whole pile of history and mythology mixed in there. I picked up a few pointers to it early on, like the movie tickets Hancock has (not quite a spoiler, but one of my favorite Highlander episodes touches on the same themes and makes the same reference but from a different direction, so, yeah, pop culture dork here). And the bits and pieces of background only serve to make the movie richer. The trouble is, before you can get that background, there’s a whole hell of a lot of foreground.

First we have to establish Hancock as an anti-hero. That’s accomplished pretty easily with some great action sequences and some fun rough and tumble stuff from Will Smith, who plays Hancock at the beginning in a way he doesn’t normally appear in the movies. It’s prodding at all the super hero tropes we all know and love. I mean, Superman is all well and good, but sometimes you need to toss Wolverine in, you know? Also, comic books exist in this world and Wolverine does get referenced. Fantastic. Anyhow, then once we’ve established our anti-hero, we have to redeem him. Enter Ray, a somewhat desperate and sort of cringe-inducing marketing and PR guy (at first – he gets better) played by Jason Bateman. He sets himself the task of getting Hancock’s public image back on track and convinces him to do some of the jail time he’s been setting himself up for what with all the property damage and such. Only after the brief jail stint do we get to the real meat of the movie.

Suddenly it’s not all laughs and Hancock threatening to shove heads up asses. Finally we get to know just what he is and why he doesn’t remember his past and we get to see just how shitty the down sides really are. Beyond the drinking and the destruction and the scaring people. Beyond everything we’ve seen up to then. I don’t want to spoil it, but man, it’s a kicker. At least it is for me.

I am a sucker for a story about the tragedy of immortality. If someone had sold this to me as that, I’d have raced to the theater. I’m not shocked that this got mixed reviews (or so I heard, I’ve mentioned I’m avoiding reviews before writing my own) and wasn’t the huge hit it might have been. The pacing is weird, what with the whole set-up/redemption thing it has to do before we get the mythology and the emotion and the heartbreak and the true redemption that comes with wings and purpose. It’s a deeper movie than the beginning implies on the surface, but look a little deeper at that beginning and it does things with sociological issues that most super hero movies won’t touch with a ten meter cattle prod. It’s touching on race and class and yeah, gender too. It almost makes me wish I was still in college so I could use this as the focus of a gigantic academic paper, because even though the pacing is odd in the transitions and the story has to hit a lot of points in a very short time, I think it would be worth a deeper look than I can give in a daily review.

This movie deserved a better reaction than it got, in my opinion. It’s fun and it’s deep and all three leads – Will Smith, Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron (I haven’t mentioned her much, but I’ve got my reasons and she’s fantastic) – are excellent, playing their parts far more intensely than I’d expected. It made me cry at the end. I should have seen it in the theater. I’m truly sorry I didn’t.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Hancock

June 30, 2010

Hancock

I love a deconstruction of comic book and super hero tropes. And I love movies with their own mythology, whole worlds created to fit the outlandish characters in them. So this here is a movie almost custom made to appeal to me. I’m a little puzzled that this movie didn’t do better in the theaters, but maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe people just don’t want what is essentially speculative fiction in their big budget summer blockbuster movie. Maybe the sort of person who goes to a Will Smith film doesn’t want to have to think, or doesn’t want the kind of story we have here.

Hancock trys to tell the story of what life would be for Superman if he existed for real. What would life be like for a guy who can fly, is indestructible, and has super strength. Early on in the movie it is established why Hancock can’t have a physical relationship with a mortal, fragile, human women. If you’ve read Larry Niven’s “Man of steel, women of cleenex” you know what to expect there. Surrounded by these oh-so-delicate creatures Hancock has had to isolate himself. He’s turned into a lonely, surly drunken bastard. Sure he still fights crime, in a way, but he’s a loose cannon. His brute force methods leave a path of destruction in his wake.

As a result people hate him. It’s a great premise. He tries to help, really he does, but he’s so isolated that he can’t quite relate with the people he’s helping. It doesn’t make things better for him that everywhere he goes people yell at him for making things worse. At the start of the movie he’s pretty much given up, and you can tell. He lives his life out of a series of bottles. He has absolutely no human contact, and nobody at all seems to like him.

Until he meets Ray, a down on his luck public relations consultant who’s life Hancock saves. Ray is this wholesome guy who just wants to make the world a better place, and when Hancock plows into his life he sees this as a chance to do just that. He becomes determined to help Hancock figure out how to be a hero without being an asshole. His son worships Hancock as a super hero. His wife is wary – she clearly has some deep-seated reason to not want Hancock involved in her life.

So the whole first half of the movie is about Hancock and his attempt to blend in and be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. On Ray’s advice he turns himself in to the authorities and does time in prison as penance for all the destruction he’s done. All the time he’s there Ray tries, with little apparent success, to coach him on how to encourage a better reaction from people when he is at a crime scene. Things like don’t leave a big crater when you arrive. Treat the police with respect for doing their job because, you know, they aren’t bulletproof like you are.

The whole movie – up through Hancock’s triumphant return to public life, is played pretty much for laughs. It’s a good-time story of an immortal super human learning how to cope with people, and people finding out that they probably need him. Then things suddenly take a darker turn. We begin to see a little about Hancock’s story. How the first thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital with massive head trauma. How he didn’t even know his name and so when the admitting nurse asked for his “John Hancock” he figured that must me it. Oh, and how this was eighty years ago, because he doesn’t age.

So was it something about he head wound that made him what he is, or is there more to Hancock’s story? Well, of course, there’s more. And the second half of the movie is him discovering his past, learning what he is and where he came from, and having to deal with that as well.

I’m deliberately being vague here because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anybody. I will only say that I love the mythology that the movie establishes for him. I love the tragedy, the aching loss that is hinted at. And it’s this strange turn that changes the movie from being just a summer popcorn flick into something more, deeper, and better. Maybe it’s because of this twist in the entire feel of the film that was partially responsible for it vanishing from the public eye so suddenly. But, hey, that’s alright with me. If there are a lot of people who didn’t see this movie that just means I get to look good when I recommend it to them. I get to be the guy who discovered this hidden gem of a big budget movie.

You can really see, watching this, that it is a group effort. The actors play really well off of each other. Will Smith gets to both play a badass unstoppable super hero and at the same time imbue him with a sort of sad loneliness. Jason Bateman as Ray is fantastic. He’s given lot of dialog that could come off as condescending and preachy, but you never see him as anything but a simple guy who has a vision of something better. Charlize Theron as Ray’s wife Mary gets some of the meatiest parts of the movie, and it’s no surprise that an Oscar winning actress like herself can absolutely perfectly cut to the movie’s surprisingly touching and tender core.

And huge congratulation and thanks have to go to director Peter Berg. He uses a lot of tricks to keep the story gritty and human, especially when it begins to escape into super hero territory. He uses a lot of steady-cam work, down on the ground, to get us into the picture. Very often in tense scenes of dialog he has characters and scenery obscuring part of the frame up in the foreground. It makes you kind of want to lean in and get around this stuff to literally get more into the film. Another trick he uses a couple times is clever inter-cutting. Both the lengthy prison montage that portrays Hancock’s re-integration with humanity through three or four inter-cut story lines, and later in one of the climactic fight scenes, which is played between scenes of Ray at a corporate board meeting. Cool and well done.

I really love this movie. For being something strange and different than what I was expecting. And for creating a cool world that I want to see more of.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment