A superhero movie with soul in more ways than one, Hancock takes a gamble on situating its magically endowed character in the gritty real world instead of a bells and whistles fantasy land, and comes out a winner. Much of the success of this unconventional movie can be credited to that other superpower of the imagination, and a solid grip on everyday existential angst. And the quirky chemistry fueled between those two antagonistic protagonist dramatic heavyweights, Will Smith and Charlize Theron, who go at it like Hillary and Obama duking it out at a presidential primary.
In a scenario perhaps a little too cluttered with self-styled do-gooders in their own minds, Will Smith is Hancock, a foul-mouthed, temperamental LA vagrant with amnesia, and a bad booze habit. When summoned to action to fight urban crime, it’s understood that the tipsy superhero will bungle his missions and cause more trouble than he’s worth. There’s also the stinging irony that no matter how selfless and risk-taking in service to the crime-ridden community, Hancock as a homeless guy, even though famed for stuff like repatriating beached whales to their favored offshore habitats, is an under-appreciated shunned outcast, no matter what.
One day while lugging his whiskey bottle along on his rounds, Hancock saves white collar geek loser Ray (Jason Bateman) from certain death after his car gets stuck in the way of an approaching speeding train. When a grateful Ray brings Hancock home to sample his wife’s weekly meatball madness dinner, Mary (Charlize Theron) is far from pleased to have this street person hanging around the house and charming her young stepson, Aaron (Jae Head). And while failed PR man Ray is preoccupied fretting over getting dissed trying to sell corporate misers on his brainchild save-the-world charitable public relations projects, Hancock is clearly getting the hots for a not entirely unreceptive Mary.
At the same time, Ray gets consumed with the idea of taking his ornery stray dog of a house guest on as a new PR pet project, to teach him how best to “interface with the public.” In the process, Ray cleans him up, makes him say sorry to the world, and pesters Hancock into rehab and jail time for assorted unresolved issues on his extensive rap sheet. But once the inmates get wind of the guy responsible for putting them behind bars and Hancock is literally forced to shove one menacing diminutive con up another’s rear end, all sorts of narrative threads begin to hit the fan.
Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) makes this multiple-genre movie work, despite its over-the-top finale, primarily because Will Smith is given the emotional space to flesh out a multidimensional character who inspires compassion even when exhibiting the most repugnant flaws. And with the richly textured soundtrack fusion of rap, blues and reggae as backdrop, this earthy, badass otherworldly crimefighter with a particular aversion to superhero suits and the word A-hole, is as salty, charming and down to earth as can be.