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The Summer of 2008 has now officially become the Summer of Superhero. In the new landscape of hot trends in movies today, the Superhero/Comic Book to film fad must be the new “thing,” because now everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. Last week gave us WANTED, the non-traditional comic book movie and this week gives us Will Smith as the anti-hero of the eponymous Hancock.

Originally touted as a different take on the Superhero genre, this darker, more adult fare was about a down on his luck drunkard of a Superhero who has a questionable relationship with his friend’s wife and searches for redemption. Based originally on a screenplay by Vincent Ngo and first called Tonight, He Comes, the story sounded more like Oscar bait than summer sustenance.

However, Hancock, directed by Peter Berg (The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) turns in a tease of a movie that makes us think it’s going to give us something akin to a dramatic commentary on the tried and true, and then decides it wants to play in the same sandbox as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.

Hancock is the story of a Los Angeleno Superman-like hero named John Hancock, who’s kind of an A-hole (just make sure you don’t call him that to his face). He’s lost faith in humanity and his loneliness has made him a drunk. He’s careless, he’s reckless, and yet he’s still heroic, as down on his luck p.r. shill Ray Embrey (my new favorite, Jason Bateman) is fortunate to find out.

In a very poignant scene where a drunken Hancock saves Ray from an oncoming train while causing possible millions in damage, Ray reminds us that amongst all the complaints of the witnesses and angry mobs, a life had been saved, and that’s what’s most important. Feeling in debt and no doubt a little bit of pity, Ray wants to repay the favor and help Hancock out with his public image. So after some convincing, Hancock essentially takes Ray on as his manager, so to speak.

The rest of the movie deals with the redemption of Hancock, some insight into his murky past and lots and lots of comic book style action. The plotting of the screenplay reads very comic book like and could almost pass as an interesting graphic novel if it were ever adapted. However, it’s when Hancock gets too “comic booky” that it really loses its steam and as the film switches gears in the middle, you can almost feel the momentum screech to a halt.

What kept occurring to me during the viewing was that I originally thought this was going to be more of Will Smith acting in a Superhero type film and actually lampooning the genre. It turns out this is THE Will Smith Superhero vehicle.

I also kept thinking, this is Will Smith as Luke Cage, and if we ever saw that film, this is what it would look like. But it’s not. It’s Will Smith saying," I don’t want to be anybody else’s property, I want my own super-hero franchise."

Had the film been marketed that way, I think it would have made more sense. Instead we have mock ups in theaters of a passed-out Will Smith on a park bench.

After watching Hancock, I found myself not quite sure what to make of it. I didn’t hate the film; I actually think I liked it, but there was something wrong with it. Berg is a capable director. However, sometimes he gets bogged down with the action scenes and forgets character development, but I don’t think this was the case with this movie.

Hancock feels like it wanted to be one movie and the studio wanted another. Reports are that Hancock handled more adult themes and initially got an R rating, but the studio wanted it pared down to appeal to mass audiences and put more butts in the seats.

So it feels like it left a lot of substance on the cutting room floor and that’s a shame. Smith has become a bona fide movie star, but he’s also an Academy Award nominated actor, and he brings a certain compassion to a film that otherwise could be written off as fluff. He’s also acting with Academy Award Winning Actress Charlize Theron and the two of them bring some chops to the movie, even though only the first half of the film’s script was ready for them.

Once the nature of their relationship is revealed, Hancock starts to go downhill. The somewhat more compelling adult story turns into a less than standard Superhero revenge flick and we get more than enough action and not enough exposition. The ending is satisfying, yet leaves us wanting more.

Hancock is interesting and funny, and action-packed. It’s also good. It just suffers from a lack of a real focus. Is it a Superhero Movie? Is it a Will Smith Comedy? Is it a contemporary take on the Comic Book genre? Hancock doesn’t know.

What it does know is that compelling acting and actors and a ton of big budget Hollywood style effects and action might just be enough for a summer blockbuster. It might be enough for a good movie…but just not enough for a great movie.

Lon Lopez

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