Well, it’s not terribly often that I’m surprised. Especially when we’re talking summer movies.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the flickers. I love explosions and cowboys and dragons and poop jokes and people falling down and aliens and lovable CGI toasters who crave acceptance just as much as the next guy. Doesn’t all have to be Bergman. Sometimes you just want chicken wings and beer. So my expectations for movies that air between May and September are … not exactly lowered, just refocused.
Superheroes have a special place in my heart, as you know if you at all pay attention to what I’ve reviewed here. Never quite outgrew comics, still have a Green Lantern T-shirt, even after that horrible realization that it’s all just soap opera with spandex and punching — which, now that I think about it, is exactly like soap opera. You know the formula: Person with powers tackles likewise powerful villain/alien menace/doomsday device, discovers weakness, overcomes it to beat the bad guy. Popcorn, Goobers, joy.
This is where “Hancock” (with Will Smith, Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron) surprised the hell out of me, because it subverts that formula neatly, twisting it into a moving, funny, thrilling parable. This is also where the review gets difficult, because there’s no way for me to really get into that parable without ruining the surprise for you, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to do that. But here’s what I can say about it:
You know how you spend your time watching a superhero movie waiting for the bad guy to show up so you know what the big showdown is going to be like? Well, you’ll meet the bad guy here, but the bad guy’s really not the point. The bad guy is nothing more than the plot device he (or she) usually is, and this movie’s honest about that. The one place where “Iron Man” weakened and became common is precisely where “Hancock” gets it right.
Second, half of you will go see this and say you saw it coming. You are all liars if you’re referring to anything other than the initial plot twist, because the story does a grand job taking its time from that moment until the film’s climax letting you know what’s going on, bit by bit, slowly revealing that there’s a lot more working under the surface of this action comedy than you’d expected. Maybe I’m just stupid, but I don’t think so — not by summer movie standards, anyway.
Its comedy is by turns both broad and dry, its action by turns hilarious and thrilling. It manages to delve into its emotional moments without getting too sticky (it pushes it here and there, but mostly makes it work), tries to avoid being sentimental and mostly succeeds. Perhaps most surprising of all, “Hancock” doesn’t want just its action and comedy to be memorable, it wants its story to be what you walk away with, and it succeeds there too.
How good is it? Good enough that even the yammering douchebags with limited cognitive capacity sitting next to me didn’t ruin it (I was the guy in the orange T-shirt and the goatee, you know who you are). Good enough that finally we have a comic book movie that’s catching up to what serious comics were doing 15 years ago, which is every Shazam nerd’s dream.
Frankly, I think it serves as a good model for what summer blockbusters can be. “Hancock” isn’t perfect, no, and it sure ain’t Bergman, but then Bergman never had alcoholics stopping cars Fred Flintstone-style on a Los Angeles freeway, and there I feel he failed as a director.