Friday, 4 July 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Hancock

It's been a good week for new cinema in my books. First, Wall-E turned out to be the most groundbreaking experiment in animation since, perhaps Snow White - or, at the very least since Beauty and the Beast. Now Will Smith stirs up the superhero genre with his best film in over a decade.

This summer, as usual, we're being swamped with superhero films. We have the sequels, and plenty of them - The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II... We have the first time outing, from Iron Man. We even have the inevitably awful 'Superhero Movie' spoof. Where Hancock immediately holds the high ground is that of all the superhero movies, this is the only truly original one - no comic books or graphic novels on which to base it. Even the references to other comics are sparse - one villian refers to his costume as 'tight-ass Wolverine', but that's about it, really...

Thus far reviews have been far from awful, but never entirely complimentary about the film. Empire, who are without a doubt the most reputable review source I give credit to, gave the film a distinctly average three stars. The main flaw has been suggested many times that Hancock doesn't know what it is - a comedy, a straight superhero film, a parody... in truth, the film does dance flitteringly around all three - though this is far from a flaw.

In the titular John Hancock we see the superhero equivalent of Bad Santa - a techy, bad-tempered and oft drunken man of steel, with a distaste for the name 'asshole' and a tendency to react a little to harshly to those who deny his will - even if they are just ten year-old boys. Without a doubt, the film is funniest when Hancock is an undeniable bastard, and when Hancock is placed into jail the film undoubtably lags for ten minutes or so. But once the second act starts, the film continues along, having a whale of a time as it does.

Scenes where Hancock plays the hero - either as a bastard or not - are delights, and thanks to a strong production would not seem at all out of place in any other of this summer's blockbusters. Perhaps the best scenes of the second act though are those where we can see the chemistry between the three lead actors. Smith and Jason Bateman, who plays struggling PR man Jay, are fantastic together - the naive and cynical mismatch floundering around fantastically. Similarly, scenes with Smith and Bateman's onscreen wife Charlize Theron are some of the most fun in the entire film - one scene in the family kitchen mixes Desperate Housewives with Tom and Jerry. It is also perhaps no surprise that Bateman and Theron play such a convincing couple - after all, they have worked together in similar perameters before on the much-missed Arrested Development.

And so to the final act, which has gathered much scorn from the press, for changing the mood and becoming generic with any other superhero film. And it's true that the mood becomes distinctly more serious, the whole act much more 'generic', if you must. But fortunately the scenes that could be interchanged with the final act of similarly superhero-based films are done so well that they themselves are a treat to watch. Compared with the final fights of, say Iron Man, the scenes are infinitely better looking, infinitely more believable and as a result, a great deal more enjoyable. Compared with the final battles of Batman Begins, the film which remains my favourite of the genre, Hancock's are much more tangible, memorable and condensed, all of which make for an incredible finale to a superb film. To quote the hero himself: 'Good job.'


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