Director Peter Berg can blend a variety of genres into a single film. The Kingdom mashes the political thriller with summer action. The Rundown is an action/comedy. Very Bad Things is an incredibly dark comedy mixed in with some drama, although that depends on how you take it.
Then there’s Hancock.
Berg’s direction can’t save a film suffering from an identity crisis when the problem sits firmly with the script. This is a movie trying to be everything, from a comedy, special effects extravaganza, superhero drama, character study, and an origin story. The mish-mash never comes together as a cohesive whole, and manages to only be partially entertaining.
Will Smith’s charisma carries the character of Hancock, a usually drunk super hero who tends to do more harm than good when saving the citizens of Los Angeles. He’s funny, emotional, and unsure of where his extended life expectancy is going to take him. While the film opens with action, it quickly turns to comedy, and then into drama, and then somewhere in the mix flip flops a few more times. It’s hard to figure out what you should be feeling at times, aside form the prison sequence which gains the biggest laugh in the film.
The concept here is excellent, although that statement depends on which concept you’re thinking of. As a comedic, drunk super hero who destroys things, the movie could have worked. As a film looking to explore the darker side of being a super hero, it might have been great. As a standard “wow” inducing summer blockbuster, it might have been a classic. All of those combined, and it falls flat.
Sony’s rather idiotic idea of including a spoiler on the front cover certainly won’t be helpful to audiences who missed the film in the theater. It’s not a flaw of the film, but certainly spoils the fun of Charlize Theron’s character, and one of the movie’s better surprises. One specific scene, that of a fight between Theron and Smith, is a perfect example of how the film falters. By spending so much time being something else, it ignores the explanations needed as to why things are happening. The entire sequence is explained in the extras on the disc, but this is the type of thing needed in the film itself.
Jason Bateman is a blast, playing a PR agent trying to get Hancock into the public’s eye in a positive light. His straight-mannered character always has the right line at the right time, though when he learns of his wife’s true nature, he takes it awfully well.
While the three main characters develop naturally, other aspects of the plot falter. The villain is barely there, and feels tacked on purely to give the film an action-oriented finale. The origin story is touched on but never fully explored. It’s a shame Hancock is such a crowded attempt, as the super hero movie needs a shot of originality on film. However, this would have been better off starting life as a comic where it would have had time to develop.
Hancock is a loaded HD presentation, filled with bold, saturated color and strong contrast. Black levels tend to be overbearing, leading to black crush. The simply amazing facial detail is hidden behind a layer of nothing but black, and it’s disappointing. Flesh tones also tend to waver into orange territory. Aside from those two issues, this is a nearly perfect transfer. It’s incredibly clear and crisp. This AVC encoded disc never shows any artifacting, and manages to maintain its sharpness even on long shots.
When it picks up, Hancock’s TrueHD mix delivers. The sequence to show off is easily the bank shoot out, filled with explosions, bullets whizzing through the sound field, and plenty of ambient noise. The low end can come off slightly weak (especially in the opening action piece), but does pick up as the film moves on. Dialogue sequences are rather mundane, and rarely offer anything other than straightforward talking. Even the crowded restaurant neglects any ambient audio.
Instead of one documentary, the disc simply houses a number of short featurettes that feel like they should have been combined into one. There’s no commentary, so you’ll need rely on things like Superhumans, a standard studio-approved self-praising featurette. Seeing the Future deals with pre-vis, looking at eight different scenes. Building a Better Hero spends time with John Dykstra, the special effects supervisor.
Bumps & Bruises is an in-depth look at the bank robbery running just over 10 minutes. Home Life looks at the construction of the home set used in the film, and Suiting Up rather obviously deals with the costumes for about eight minutes. Mere Mortals is a comedy piece aimed at Peter Berg.
The Blu-ray offers a picture-in-picture mode, delivering video diaries while you watch the film. The content cannot be accessed any other way. Finally, BD-Live adds a few generic featurettes to the rest of the roster, along with Sony’s usual round-up of trailers.