It's a shame when a film comes along with such a sure-fire concept, only to squander almost all of its opportunities. 'Hancock' is just such a movie. It's got a nifty idea that's ripe for pop culture satire -- a failed superhero who shirks his responsibilities as a man of virtue and valor -- and mega-star Will Smith in the lead. Plus, it's directed by Peter Berg ('The Kingdom,' 'Friday Night Lights'), who one would think could bring a fresh, edgy sensibility and dark comedic spin to a genre that's sorely in need of a little post-modern skewering. Alas, 'Hancock' just doesn't gel -- it fails as a superhero film, it fails as a comedy, it fails as an action film, and it fails as some sort of didactic statement on heroism. Though not a complete fiasco, this must certainly rank as one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
'Hancock' initially seems promising. The first third of the film is the best, as we're introduced to Hancock (Smith), a cynical and downright lazy superhero who apparently didn't get the memo that he's obligated to embrace his superpowers and social status for the betterment of mankind. Instead, he's the equivalent of an alcoholic clown, one who is always getting into trouble with the broads and booze, as likely to inspire a lawsuit by the public as hope and optimism. The beginning parody sequences of 'Hancock' are the most fun, as Smith revels in playing this sad sack of a superhero (one particularly inspired sequence sees Hancock attempting to save a beached whale). Here Smith recalls the youthful enthusiasm of his early "Fresh Prince" days, and seems to be having more fun than he's had in any of his other recent roles.
Too bad, then, than 'Hancock' doesn't stick with this narrative approach, but instead deep-sixes itself with lame subplots and a poor villain. Hoping to rescue his pathetic public image, Hancock turns to idealistic PR man Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). Ray has suffered in life due to many unfortunate events, and sees Hancock's rehabilitation as an opportunity for his own redemption. So he concocts a plan to help Hancock do his own little celebrity rehab for his crimes, in the hopes of convincing the public (as well as Ray's beautiful wife, played by Charlize Theron) that he's once again worthy of admiration. Conveniently, thrown into the mix is a revenge-minded bank robber (Eddie Marsan), who will prove just the ticket to get Hancock back in the world's good graces.
Alas, little of this complex plotting works. Marsan is a forgettable villain, and he never seems plausible -- the character has been shoe-horned in clearly because the film needs an antagonist and nothing more. Theron is also woefully miscast, and misplaced. She's simply too beautiful for such a dull role, and the character has absolutely no bearing on the eventual narrative events or the story's outcome. Bateman is certainly the best part of the film, as he manages to create a genuine and three-dimensional personality, despite the lameness of the script. Too bad he and Smith developed such a great comedic chemistry, as their relationship is so quickly tossed aside for all the predictable action and villain elements that it never has time to mature.
'Hancock' has a runtime of only 90 minutes, but for me it felt like three hours. This is the kind of unsuccessful film that isn't so bad its good, nor does it even have enough memorable moments that you can call it a laudable failure. (Even in its unrated form here, the film has no real bit or subversive wit.) It's amazing that so much talent, time, and money was put into a script that's so poorly constructed and confused in its intentions. To be fair, at least 'Hancock' is ambitious in idea if not execution, and the idea of a superhero satire that isn't an outright parody was a good one. But nothing in 'Hancock' works, and this is a case of a movie that is far, far less than the sum of its parts.
'Hancock' is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.40:1). This is a good-looking, visually slick film, and Sony has produced a nice, shiny transfer.
Backed by a big budget, 'Hancock' certainly looks expensive. There is nary a blemish to be found on the source, and grain is minimal. Black levels are excellent, though typical of most new releases these days, contrast runs a bit hot (but generally doesn't obscure fine detail). Color reproduction is top tier, with nicely saturated hues and no bleeding or smearing. Visible depth is often wholly three-dimensional, and close-ups in particular are impressive. There is considerable CGI in the film, and these effects can look a bit softer and blurrier, but generally the transfer is quite consistent in sharpness. As is usually the case with Sony, the encode is rock solid, with no obvious artifacts or annoying edge enhancement. 'Hancock' looks very good indeed.
Sony offers up a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) for 'Hancock.' Though essentially a comic book movie, 'Hancock' isn't really an action film, so we get lively sound design but not a truly gangbusters aural spectacle.
Surrounds are generally engaged. Action and highly-comedic moments enjoy some clear and forceful discrete effects. Imaging and directionality are as seamless as you would expect from a big-budget studio release. Sustained ambiance is less pronounced, with many dialogue-driven scenes leaning towards flat in terms of development. Tech specs are certainly first-rate, with hefty low bass and robust, clean high-end. Dialogue is always distinct and never overwhelmed by the action. 'Hancock' enjoys a very solid TrueHD mix.
Given 'Hancock's $200 million-plus domestic gross, I expected more substantial extras than we get here. There is no commentary, deleted scenes, or the like, which suggests Sony may be planning a double-dip of this one in the future. In any case, all video materials are presented in 1080/AVC MPEG-4 video with optional Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, and Korean subtitles.
'Hancock' isn't really a disaster, it's just a considerable disappointment. With such a potentially neat concept, I expected better from Will Smith and director Peter Berg, let alone the convoluted script. This Blu-ray is a solid technical effort with fine video and audio, though the supplements could have been improved. 'Hancock' is worth a rental for fans of comic book movies and Will Smith, but definitely keep your expectations low.